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PS Vita Console Review

PS Vita
The Sony PlayStation Vita officially launches today, bringing with it over two dozen games and a host of promises. Without a new version of the PlayStation console announced, Sony is clearly counting on the PS Vita to restore some of the prestige lost in the gaming world with the troubles dogging their PlayStation Network. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, of course, but I can say that the Vita is a remarkable achievement in handheld gaming devices.

It’s nothing if not sleek, small enough to fit in a pocket (albeit a fairly big one) but with a screen that can’t help but remind one of the iPhone 4′s Retina display, only bigger (though the Vita’s screen has slightly worse resolution than the Retina display, at 960×544, the difference is largely unnoticeable). Its tight design and relative lack of moving parts work to enhance its durability — not only have I let my 9- and 11-year-old kids play with it, but they and I have dropped it a few times, and it still looks brand new. It fits comfortably in two hands, with miniaturized versions of the PlayStation controls that work very well, even if using the tiny dual analog joysticks did make my hands cramp up after a while — but I have unusually large hands, so your mileage may vary. Having touch capabilities on the back of the Vita as well as on the front display is an interesting innovation, one which I at first found cumbersome but gradually grew able to handle reasonably adeptly. The front and back cameras are low-res enough that nobody’s likely to use them much for taking photos or videos, but serve very well in their primary function: enabling the augmented reality feature of the device. Top all that off with a Cortex A9 Quad core processor, a quad-core graphics processor, and 512 megabytes of RAM, and you’ve got a powerhouse of a handheld: to put that all into perspective, it has twice as much memory as the PS3 and more computing power than the iPad 2.

The PS Vita does more than just play games. It comes with a web browser, but one you’re only likely to use for quickly looking something up or some such activity, as it’s pretty mediocre by today’s standards. Google Maps is also included, which works pretty much as you’d expect if you’ve ever used it on a smartphone or tablet, and, though the GPS seemed pretty accurate, I don’t see this being a widely-used app — I just can’t imagine too many scenarios in which you’d need a map where it would be easier to pull out your Vita than your smartphone, but I can see it being useful for people without smartphones. It has an app called Near, which adds a social aspect to the device by showing you nearby Vita users, what they’re playing, and what trophies they’ve won. (As I only had one Vita to try out, I wasn’t able to test this app, but I understand that it does maintain privacy standards.) It comes with a content manager, which is a well-designed app that allows you to transfer information between the Vita and a PS3 or computer. And then there’s the remote play feature, which was notoriously poorly implemented on the PSP, which I was only able to get to work a little bit and then really slowly, but which they’ve promised will improve dramatically shortly, especially after more PS3 games come out that enable the feature. You can also watch videos and listen to music on the Vita, and it seems to do just fine at both, but it’s no serious threat to the better smartphones with regard to either.

But, let’s face it, nobody is going to buy the Vita for any of those things. The clear selling point of this device, and Sony clearly knows this, is the games. It’s been discussed here on GeekDad and elsewhere, but Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the clear star of the launch-day lineup — and one that demonstrates better than any other game I tried out (including the Welcome Park app that comes loaded on the device) how good a job the Vita does in providing a great gaming experience. Let me put it this way: Despite having over a dozen other games to try out, I had to play Uncharted all the way to the end, and I found myself getting immersed in the game in a very similar way to how I had playing the console games in the series, to the point where what I was playing the game on became just part of the experience. It really did feel that natural, and that’s as much a testament to the device’s features as it is to the game’s designers and developers for taking advantage of them. Honestly, the other games were a bit hit and miss — though there were some very good ones — but it was Uncharted that really made me a true believer in the PS Vita. If a series as rich and cinematic as that can have a handheld installment that stands right up there with the console installments, then so can any other series. (Check back here on GeekDad in the next week or so to read my full reviews of selected games from the opening Vita lineup.)

With all the games available to play already, it would be easy to overlook the Vita’s operating system, but it could be argued that that’s one of its greatest strengths: it allows you to run and effortlessly switch between up to five apps at once. Want to pause your game to check out who’s nearby and send a friend request? Just press the “PS” button under the left analog stick, scroll through the apps screens with a flick of your finger — just as you would in iOS or Android, only vertically — tap the Near app, send the request, then swipe left or right to the game’s screen and tap continue. The only delay in this process would be how long it takes you to find your new potential friend in Near, because everything else would be virtually instantaneous. Really: even pausing and restoring a game as big as Uncharted was seamless, dropping me back into the game as though Drake had only blinked. I tried doing this in every game I played, and in the middle of all kinds of processor-intensive scenes, and not only did none of the games crash, but every one of them restored perfectly. If there are any glitches in this OS, I wasn’t able to find them, and I’m usually pretty good at that sort of thing.

The Vita has its weak points, though. The battery life is probably the worst: I wasn’t able to play for more than three hours in any game without getting a low battery warning; giving it a full charge only took about two hours, though, which isn’t bad. Storage is another issue: The Vita carries no internal storage, presumably as a way to keep prices down, and memory cards for it are proprietary and expensive. And it has its annoyances — for me, the biggest being that the cover to the slot where game cards go was really difficult to open. If you don’t have long fingernails, you’ll need to either leave the cover open or carry some kind of small, thin object with you — honestly, I don’t see how the design for this made it to the final product, when the rest of the Vita seems so well thought out. I had to resort to keeping a small, thin knife next to me for this purpose, and prying the cover open very carefully, because literally nothing else I tried worked — even a dime was too thick for the purpose, as were the edges of the game cards and the boxes they came in. If I want to take my Vita on a plane, I’ll have to come up with some other idea, since I have a feeling the TSA will not accept “I need it to open my handheld gaming device” as a valid reason for bringing a knife on board.

All in all, the PS Vita really has managed to bring console-level gaming to a handheld in a way nobody has done before. I love my iPhone 4 and my iPad 2, and I play games on them all the time, but the iPhone screen is too small to let you forget you’re using a phone and the iPad is too big to fit naturally in your hands for long periods of time — plus there are very few pockets capable of holding an iPad, and they are both definitely more fragile than the Vita. I honestly felt like I had the same kind of immersive experience playing on the Vita that I’m used to having on the Xbox and PS3, only with the added benefits that only a handheld can provide, like touchscreen and gyroscopic movement. And I was able to play on this “console” with my headphones on while my kids watched a program on the main family TV, something I’m not able to do with the actual consoles. And fellow parents will understand how nice it was to be able to play a game rated “M” while my kids were in the house and awake, without having to worry they’d see or hear something I’d rather they didn’t.

The PS Vita is available for $249.99 for the WiFi-only version and $299.99 for a bundle with the version that adds AT&T 3G capability (which also comes with an 8GB memory card) — though you’ll have to pay for a data plan if you want to use the 3G after the included DataConnect pass runs out. Considering that you can currently get a 160GB PS3 for $250, this may seem a bit pricey, but not horribly so when you consider how much power Sony has packed into so little space. Games seem to run between $30 and $50, which is what you’d pay for any console game (and therefore more than you’d pay for games for most handhelds).

Wired: The PS Vita delivers the closest thing yet to a console-level experience in a handheld device, with well-designed handheld features. The rear touch-panel is an innovation I expect to see on other devices soon, as (while it takes some getting used to) it is fairly natural to use when your fingers are already on the back of the device because your thumbs are on the controls.

Tired: Sony has yet to learn that using proprietary storage media makes them no friends, and this is very much in evidence with the Vita. The battery life could well be enough to keep a lot of people from dropping a few hundred bucks on the Vita, although I’m sure external battery packs will make an appearance soon. And there’s that annoyance of the game card slot cover, which seems like a small thing, but as it’s something you have to use a lot will drive you a little bit nuts if you have the same trouble I did.

Conclusion: An excellent gaming experience overall, and worth the money. I don’t see the point in paying $50 more for the 3G and then having to get a plan on top of that, so if I were buying one I’d go for the WiFi-only version — although the 8GB memory card that comes with the 3G + WiFi bundle costs a fair bit on its own. (Amazon is offering a deal that gets you a free 4GB memory card with the WiFi-only version for a limited time.) The battery life is the only thing that might keep me from buying one, but there are so many opportunities to plug devices in these days that I don’t think it’s too huge a deal.


Chronicle Movie Review

Chronicle is directed by Josh Trank and stars Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan. Chronicle was brewing somewhere hidden. Facebook and its own website are the only place in the internet where you can see a preview to this very original movie. The site shows us a sneak peek in the form of the movie trailer. The trailer introduces us to three friends who somehow acquired telekinetic powers from a crater they intended to go to just for the fun of it. They start using their new found powers by showing off what they could do. One of them, Andrew, accidentally puts a driver in the hospital while they are driving back home. The ball starts rolling downhill literally for Andrew. He becomes dark and vengeful and slowly realizes the possibilities when he can do anything he wants with his powers, while the two try and stop him.

At the beginning of the film, Andrew has bought a new camera. The same camera used throughout until the middle of the film. His father grudgingly forces Andrew to open the locked door. Andrew not only doesn’t open the door, but he also insults him by insisting that his father is drunk. Right there and then, the audience can pick up that andrew is a loner and has a very stressful home environment where his father easily beats him around. On the way to school, we are introduced to Matt, Andrew’s cousin, who drives Andrew to school everyday. Once at school, bullies  treat him like as if he should not exist at all. This goes on for about another 2 to 3 minutes. When Andrew and Matt drive back home, Matt invites Andrew to a party. At first Andrew doesn’t want to go, but with a little convincing, he agrees to go. Here, he is again bullied and is forced to leave the party still carrying his camera. He sits by a tree, crying, and obviously in pain. He meets Steve, a popular student running for school president. Steve wants Andrew to bring his camera and come with him to film everything they are about to do. He tells him of a crater they found, presumably the same crater which gives them their powers. Andrew and Steve meet up with Matt at the site. They all climb down and discover something out of this world. A structure that looks like a ship or what looks like a part of a ship, but the specifics aren’t further explored in the movie. Steve touches it and begins bleeding through his nose. Then the structure starts glowing and violently releases some sort of telekinetic force and the whole scene cuts to black.

For the most part, they seem to have escaped the crater. The scene, from the pitch black darkness, it shifts to days after the incident and they are practicing what they can do with their powers.

From here on, the film focuses on the expansion of their abilities. From trying to build buildings with lego pieces, with Andrew being the most powerful of all three and Matt having trouble with his pieces. Later, Steve calls them both to show something. Steve has learned the ability to fly, Andrew has no trouble at all when trying to fly. Matt, on the other hand, fails and falls down to his face. That scene was very funny and explores the three’s friendship with each other. It then cuts to a scene where it shows that the camera is in the sky, the three friends are wearing heavy and thick jackets and are flying all over the place.

After the thrilling experience, Andrew, Matt, and Steve sleep over at Steve’s place. Matt confesses that “this is the best day of my life.” I was a little confused and thought that Andrew said those words since his life, before having his powers, sucked. Within the movie, scenes of Matt and Cassey, a girl from their school, are having a conversation about how Matt has changed and he came over to give a donation to a struggling country. My first thoughts were those scenes are just “flavor scenes,” in which it isn’t part of the main story but only for the purpose of giving the movie more shifting space.

Andrew is made famous in his school because of Steve convincing him to join the talent show. He uses his powers to perform “magic” tricks in front of the school. They attend a party, here Andrew meets a girl and engage in a little intimate foreplay, but all goes wrong when Andrew vomits on the girl. Back at school, the girl tells everyone and Andrew is again picked on by bullies. He snaps and used his powers on the bully by pulling three of his tooth. His home environment doesn’t change at all and his father punches him, Andrew gets angry and shoves his father away.

Andrew flies up into the sky and spends his time alone up there until Steve comes along to ask how Andrew is doing. Andrew gets mad and accidentally kills Steve by being struck by a lightning bolt. I really felt sad beacause of all the three, Steve seemed to be the kindest. Remember that scene where he talks to Andrew before they go down the crater.

Anyway, Matt begins to question whether Andrew is stable at all with his powers. Andrew flies away. He sees his mother in pain and tries to get some medications for her only to have him feel bad because of financial problems. He gets his father’s firefighter uniform, wears it, and goes out to take the money from the local thugs that hangs out near his place. He beats them all and steals their money, but it wasn’t enough. He robs a gas station, the guy behind the counter grabs a shotgun, points it at Andrew. Andrew uses his power to push the shotgun away but it shoots in the direction of a petrol tank and explodes, Andrew is caught in the blast and is sent to the hospital.

His father visits him and he doesn’t feel bad. Andrew gets mad and tries to kill him by dropping him outside. Matt comes to save him. The two battle it out in the city of Seattle. At the end Matt decides to kill his cousin and friend. That part there was very predictable. The ending shows Matt, holding a camera, flies to Tibet. Tibet is where Andrew wanted to go because of how peaceful the place is. He leaves the camera to capture the tranquility.

The ending, at first, was slow. But when you think about it, Matt was the logical choice to be the survivor. He, from being a complete jerk, went on to become a kind-hearted man. Steve’s death was a shocker since everyone has developed a love for him. Andrew is comparable to Anakin Skywalker. Anakin Skywalker later becomes the tyrannical Darth Vader. The difference between Andrew and Anakin is that Anakin had a chance to resist the dark side and avoid being darth Vader. From the beginning, Andrew’s life was messed up and his hate has been building up since he was a kid.

The movie is a new twist to the superhero genre. It is very hard to compare it to other superhero movies because most of them are based on comic books or other materials. Chronicle was never based on anything which is why the movie is so original. I would recommend the movie to other people and give it a score of 8.5 to 9 out of 10.


More Books

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Game News

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 Gamers can get ready to return to the Animus, as Ubisoft today announced that Assassin’s Creed 3 will launch on October 30.
As reported by Kotaku, the news came from a Ubisoft investor conference call in which CEO Yves Guillemot predicted it would be “the biggest launch in Ubisoft history.”
The news confirms at least part of a purportedly leaked Ubisoft release schedule that surfaced this week, with Assassin’s Creed 3 listed as a 2012 launch.


WonderCon 2012

 

The first time I heard about WonderCon, my mind was too preoccupied with San Diego Comic Con that I just ignored it. Even with the fact that WonderCon held its convention in San Francisco. I was living in Milpitas at that time and thought I wouldn’t be able to go to San Diego with that much ease. It would mean driving to San Diego for SDCC and spend 9 to 10 hours on the road. Then I thought, why not just go to WonderCon. It’s pretty much the same. Then it said on the news that the next WonderCon, WonderCon 2012, will be held at Anaheim. Obviously it was just a coincidence, but a couple of months after that news, we moved to Riverside, CA because my Pops was transferred to Riverside Marriott. Anaheim is a 30-minute drive from Riverside and an hour and a half drive to San Diego. Now, I’ll be able to attend both.

After registering as a volunteer to WonderCon, they emailed me their policies and safety guidelines that included a form that I have to fill up and give to them so they can give me assignments to work on there at the convention. The way this works is I have to work three hours a day inside the convention and I get to be there the rest of the day to enjoy everything the convention has to offer. I’ll be volunteering for three days which gives me access to the entire convention.

 

WonderCon Wiki:

WonderCon is an annual comic book, science fiction, and motion picture convention, held in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1987.

The convention was conceived by retailer John Barrett (a founder of the retail chain Comics and Comix) and originally held in the Oakland Convention Center, where it remained until 2003, when it moved to San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The show’s original name was the Wonderful World of Comics Convention.

Retailer Joe Field (of Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff) and his partner Mike Friedrich owned and operated the convention for fifteen years. In 2001, they brokered a deal with the management team that runs the San Diego Comic-Con International to make it part of the Comic-Con International convention family. This gave the San Francisco show a wider audience and has made it a venue for previews and early screenings of major motion pictures, in particular ones based on comic books. These have included Spider-Man 2 in 2004, Batman Begins and Fantastic Four in 2005, Superman Returns in 2006, 300 in 2007, Watchmen in 2009, and Kick-Ass in 2010. All of these events featured the stars of the films fielding questions from the audience. In addition, WonderCon features an event called “Trailer Park,” wherein trailers for upcoming films are shown.

While the main attraction of WonderCon has always been various retailers selling back issues of comic books and action figures, the exhibitorship has grown to include retailers of specialty DVDs. There is also an “Artists Alley” featuring mainly comic book artists selling artwork, signing books, and doing sketches; and mainstream celebrities signing autographed pictures. Academicians and comic industry professionals have held the Comics Arts Conference in conjunction with WonderCon.
In addition to the comic and movie previews is the Wondercon masquerade, which usually takes place on Saturday after the convention closes. Awards are given to those with the most creative performances, but anyone can participate. In 2010, the convention had an attendance of 39,000 fans with 34,000 fans in 2009.”


Thief of Thieves #1 Review

Thief of Thieves is a new ongoing comic book title from Image Comics that is being written by fan favorite Robert Kirkman. He has brought you smash hits like Invincible, The Walking Dead — now adapted to a tv show of the same name showing on AMC –, and Super Dinosaur. He is joined by fellow writer Nick Spencer who will be responsible for both the stories and the scripts. The art is done by another fan favorie, Shawn Martinbrough. He is well known for his art style of Noir and very shady artwork. His previous works include Luke Cage Noir and Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive from Marvel. He has also done some interior artwork in The Losers from DC’s Vertigo Imprint, which has now been made into a movie.

Here is the solicitation for Thief of Thieves:

 “Conrad Paulson lives a secret double life as master thief Redmond. There is nothing he can’t steal, nothing he can’t have… except for the life he left behind.  Now, with a grown son he hardly knows, and an ex-wife he never stopped loving, Conrad must try to piece together what’s left of his life, before the FBI finally catch up to him… but it appears they are the least of his worries.”  

As the solicits say, the story starts with a man, only reffered to as Redmond, being chased by armed security guards in what seems to be a cargo hull. This man is being helped through his phone by a woman named Celia. She cuts the lights out. Next the man falls and is surrenders to the guards. The story changes and the panel shifts to a different scene, A woman is woken up by the Captain of a cruise ship. He explains to her that there has been a breach in the safe and that only her safe was broken into. The panels again shift to a different scene in which the woman and her cohort are torturing the Redmond, asking for the return of her stolen pearls. The Captain interrupts, saying he does not tolerate this kind of interrogation since they are in an American ship. The woman agrees and decides to take Redmond with her back home. Redmond is taken to a helicopter. Here it is revealed that the woman was actually Celia. She was at the ship to retrieve something from that specific safe. After the confusion implied to the readers, we are taken back to the point where Redmond and Celia first met. It seems Celia was a car thief, trying to unlock the door when Redmond walks by stating that she is doing it all wrong. It was his car. He helps her with her troubles and unlocks a different car, showing her all the necessary tricks and giving her some tips she can use. She explains to him her situation and her motive. On the way to her place, Redmond suggested that she does not turn in the car to her supposed boss. Knowing that once the guy sees her with the keys on, he will take it and leave her behind. Redmond gives three thousand dolars in exchange for the car. It seems that shifting scenes and “jump-tos” are a norm in this book, because again the story changes and shows us back where the have left us from before. Redmond and Celia are seen at a corporate building and are talking about the “Venice Job.” Very few details are given to us readers. They stand in front of a door, Redmond looks nervous. They are then surprised by Arno, Redmond’s “business partner” for the venice job, and most of his associates. They ask if the venice job is a go. Redmond ignores them. Arno then proposes a toast to Redmond, he believed that when they met, Redmond is just a lowlife, but after everything they’ve been to, all the heists that has been made, all the resources and time that were sacrificed, he trully is the greatest thief of his generation. Redmond thinks for a long time. He empties his glass, and shouts “I quit!”

 At first when I was reading the first few pages, I was confused by the shifting storyline. But like any other reader, I quikly caught up on the sense and purpose of the changing scenes. It is of course a Thief story.  Besides that, overall the the first issue is will, in no surpise, be a big seller for most retailers. Just knowing that the creative team is comprised of both Robert Kirkman and Shawn Martinbrough makes you grab your wallet to check if you have $2.99 for this title. The notion of a thief as the main character is already a “head-scratcher.” The art is amazing, Martinbrough’s noir-like pencils give that edgy and dark tone to the book. The big shock was at the very end of the issue, when he screams that he quits after a long time of robbing people for their valuables. I cannot wait for the next issue to come out on March 2012.


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