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Lazdude Blog

November reviews

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Mass Effect

When Mass Effect was released for Xbox 360, it was awarded with public and critic acclaim for its ground breaking features. Not long afterwards with Electronic Arts' acquisition of BioWare, PC gamers now get the opportunity to play this hugely anticipated title.

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GRID

When you think about the history of racing games, most major titles have been specific in one area, with few attempting to include everything at once. Not only does GRID deliver any racing experience you want, it manages to excel at them all.

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Crysis

If your PC can support Crysis' technical requirements, this is the best test you can run for all future video games. It must be said that Crytek have designed their portfolio around being a long term benchmark for others, not simply releasing everyday titles to be played and forgotten about, as is usually the case with most shooters on the market.

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Vantage is here

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Though they're a mainstay of the overclocking and benchmarking communities, Futuremark's 3DMark benchmarks have received considderable flak over the past few years for being nothing more than pretty, synthetic benchmarks that bear little relation to actual games. However, now that Futuremark has announced its own Games Studio, the benchmarks could represent a test of a real game engine. Of course, 3DMark also provides a vision of how games could look in the future - and they will look fantastic if 3DMark Vantage is anything to go by.

So what's new in this version? Well, pretty much everything. While previous versions of 3DMark have often nodded towards their predecessors with enchanced versions of the same tests, or at least one test that uses the previous version of DirectX, 3DMark Vantage is a completely new suite of tests. The whole benchmark requires DirectX 10 - you can't even run it without Windows Vista and a DirectX 10 graphics card.



The four tests that contribute to the score are also completely new. These take the form of two GPU and two CPU tests, although there's the usual set of optional feature tests, too. Presets are another new feature. Instead of just one standard 3DMark setting, such as 1,280 x 1,024 with no anti-aliasing, you can now pick from four.

As a result, scores obtained using the new 3DMark Vantage will be prefixed with a letter that identifies the preset, and then divided into a total score, GPU score and CPU score. For example, a 3DMark score at the Entry preset could be E15000, and a score for the Performance preset could be P4500.

The benchmark's new engine also features both opaque and translucent illumination such as subsurface scattering, shadow map generation and plenty of fancy post-processing effects, including bloom, depth-of-field, motion blur, film grain noise and volumetric fog.

Back to the future

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Hey everyone, I'm back for a while. These past few months I've been occupied with MMO's and other single player games, which I'll talk more about later. Things have changed now though, as I'm starting work and attending college. This means I'll have less time for video games, but more time for internet browsing, Gamespot in particular.

The site's recent redesign and upcoming improvements have encouraged me to tidy up my profile and update my blog with some interesting content for everyone. I might even write up a review or two in my spare hours just for the fun of it. It feels like I've been away from all this for too long, but then again the future looks bright, not just for me but the community as a whole.

So I say to anyone reading this, remain active, keep posting, continue playing, let's make this the best place for gamer's to meet once again.

RO is addictive

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If you're wondering where I've been these past months, there is a simple explenation. I have returned to my favorite MMORPG, Ragnarok Online. Over the last four or so years I've played RO on and off, registering on various private servers and contributing to the development of new ones. If you've never heard of this game, let me give you a brief summary.
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Ragnarok Online, often referred to as RO, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game created by GRAVITY Co., Ltd., and was first released in South Korea on 31 August 1998 for Microsoft Windows and has since been released in many other locales around the world. Much of the game's mythos is based on Norse mythology, but its styIe has been influenced by Asian cultures. The game has spawned an animated series, Ragnarok the Animation, and a sequel game, Ragnarok Online 2: The Gate of the World.



The Ragnarok Online world is divided into a series of maps, each of which has its own terrain and native monsters, though many monsters are native to multiple regions. Transportation between maps requires loading the new map and monsters cannot travel from one map to another.

There are three major nations in Ragnarok Online, the first of which and where all players start is Rune Midgard. The Schwaltzvalt Republic, an industrialized neighbor to the North, was added in Episode 10 and Arunafeltz, a religious nation modeled after a combination of Israel and Turkey is the subject of Episode 11. A series of other, minor nations also exist, generally modeled after an ancient society in the real world, examples such as Amatsu, which is modeled after ancient Japan, and Louyang, which is modeled after ancient China.

Areas from Norse mythology are also included, such as Niflheim, the land of the dead, and Valhalla, where players can become Transcendent cIass. New map content is constantly being added to game in the form of Episode updates.

Jobs are one of the most important aspects of Ragnarok Online, as the job a player chooses will have profound implications on his or her strengths and weaknesses, both in a party and outside of one. The job system includes a total of 39 different jobs, divided into 6 categories: Novices, Super Novices, First Job cIasses, Second Job cIasses, Transcendent cIasses and Extended cIasses.

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Normally you'd have to pay to play RO, on the official international servers run by Gravity. However, you can also choose from hundreds of private servers run individually in order to have a free experience. This way you can custom pick the gameplay you are most comfortable with.

Typically there three types of servers; low rate, mid rate and high rate. This corresponds to the experience rate of leveling and drop rates of items. All three have very different playing habbits but are enjoyable equally for different reasons. Anyway, while I don't encourage you to start playing an MMO - since it can be addictive, I invite others bored with their World of Warcraft or Lineage 2, to give this a go.
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VALUABLE RESOURCES FOR RO GAMERS

+ kRO Sakray Client Download
+ Top 200 Private Servers
+ Game Info Database
+ New Player Guide

R2-D2 Projector in Action Video

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[video=JHw2n2D85b0OvT7Z]

(gizmondo.com) -- We knew that there was a motorized, fully-articulated R2-D2 projector with built-in DVD, iPod dock, all kinds of digital media inputs, and Millennium Falcon remote control, but we never - ever imagined it would be so amazingly drooltastic as this video shows.

Time to put on your LEGO-made Han Solo jacket or Leia bikini, and buy this thing - because after watching it in action, I don't care about the lack of Full HD support: this thing is absolutely a must have, caress, fondle, and lick all over material. Reaching nerdgasm, however, still costs $2,995.

[Star Wars Shop via Star Wars Blog]

5 Best PC Games Playable on Linux

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(VGPRO.com) -- This is a short list of 5 PC games that you can play on the upcoming Ubuntu release: Hardy Heron. Although these games may have some features disabled, they definitely are evidence of how far Linux gaming really has come. Some of the listed games run using Wine, whereas with others Wine is not needed. Links to some valuable Ubuntu gaming resources are given at the end. If you like it, Digg it.
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1) World of Warcraft v2.4.X

World of Warcraft requires Wine to run and has a PLATINUM rating. Voice Chat, Anti-Aliasing, Texture Filtering, Fullscreen switch, and gxrestart/reloadui all work perfectly. Some users report that a registry tweak is necessary , but with the latest Wine release (v0.9.60) its pretty much plug-n-play.

2) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare v1.4

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare v1.4 requires Wine to run and has an overall silver rating at WineHQ. One user even rated it at Gold. Wine does require a patch for the game to run correctly. *EDIT* Some Wine veterans tell me that this can get slightly complicated. However, I decided to include this game because it is basically the bleeding edge of new games with high quality graphics. This game just shows how far Wine and Ubuntu have come! *EDIT* One minor flaw is that multiplayer support does not work on punkbuster enabled servers. Attempts to get punkbuster to work in Wine in the past have been all but hopeless.

3) Unreal Tournament 2004

Unreal Tournament 2004 works right out of the box. Wine is not needed. Installing is as simple as making sure your graphics drivers are up to date and typing: sudo sh /media/cdrom0/linux-installer.sh. With UT2004 comes a host of full modifications also available for play. One example is Alien Swarm. Alien Swarm is a total conversion mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 created by Black Cat Games and initially released on May 28, 2004. If you've played UT2004 in the past, but never played Alien Swarm, its definitely worth a try!

4) Day of Defeat: Source

Day of Defeat was originally a modification for Half-Life, but Valve released a new version based on the Source engine. This game requires Wine to play, but has a Platinum rating, so it involves little or no hassle. Another thing to note here is that Most of the other games based on the Source engine (Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source) are also playable with Platinum ratings using Wine.

5) Guild Wars All Versions

The best thing about Guild Wars is that it is a high quality MMORPG that has no subscription costs! Guild Wars takes the best elements of today's massively multiplayer online games and combines them with a new mission-based design that eliminates some of the more tedious aspects of those games. This game requires Wine to play, but once again has a platinum rating, so no headaches involved!
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VALUABLE RESOURCES FOR UBUNTU GAMERS

+ Wine Application Database
+ Ubuntu Gaming and Leisure Forums
+ Ubuntu 64-bit Gamers Installation Guide

NOTES

Hope this was useful for everyone, and please feel free to post links to things I missed!
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*ADDITION* Eve Online
One Digg user has noted that I have failed in an Epic fashion for forgetting Eve Online! I must admit that it was a big oversight. Eve Online is an MMORPG that can be played natively on Linux (no wine required).




*ADDITION* Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
A Digg user has noted that I have failed to include Enemy Territory: Quake Wars! ETQW is a first-person shooter video game that can run natively on Linux, and is the follow-up to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (no wine required on this one either).

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Top 100 Best Selling Games of 2007

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(next-gen.biz) -- This comprehensive list compiles sales data of each game across all platforms, and presents each game with full context, including publisher, developer(s), genre, enthusiast press review score aggregates, and more. This presents a unique view into how the top-selling games of the year found that success, and what publishers can do to maximize their own sales.

[100-91] [90-81] [80-71] [70-61] [60-51] [50-41] [40-31] [30-21] [20-11] [10-1]

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TOP 3 BEST SELLING GAMES

3. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
PS2/PS3/X360/Wii/PC
7.5M Copies
82% Rating
October/Other (Music)
Activision/Neversoft
Justin Leeper (GamesRadar): "Guitar Hero is still the best of the best when it comes to music and party games."


2. Halo 3
X360 Exclusive
8M Copies
94% Rating
September/Shooter
Microsoft/Bungie
Gus Mastrapa (The Onion A.V. Club): "Nobody does this kind of online gaming better. The sheer variety of play offered out of the box is staggering."


1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
X360/PS3/PC/DS
8.3M Copies
94% Rating
November/Shooter
Activision/Infinity Ward (X360/PS3/PC), n-Space (DS)
Steve Hogarty (CVG): "…Call of Duty 4 expands on the series mightily. Its Middle Eastern and Russian locales, while still linear, feel far more open than the ruined streets of Occupied France ever were, and every mission contains at least one sweet chunk of surprise and delight."
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We will have the complete analysis of this data tomorrow, presenting in easily digestible form how sales were effected by each publisher decision--we will also be looking at how successful each publisher was. For now though, here are some interesting, at-a-glance takeaways:

"...it still looks likes the best way to find success is to pump millions of dollars into an exclusive title of superlative quality, or snap up a license and shoot a version to every viable platform there is."

+ Madden is no longer an anomalous success -- in previous years, the Madden series existed as an outlier on the scatter chart, a franchise that had success far outstripping its competition. This year Madden continued to sell at historically high levels, but now several competitors from a variety of genres sold in similar or excessive numbers. This was not just a result of including European numbers, either. Even in Madden's home territory, several blockbuster hits threatened its dominance.

+ The PS2 is far from dead -- contrary to popular belief, the PS2 is not limping along on life support. In fact the PS2 market is a vibrant one that continues to be successful, thanks to the huge installed base and lower price point of games for the system. This is particularly evident in sales numbers for sports and licensed games. The vast majority of multiplatform titles in these genres found the most success on the older PlayStation model. The PS2 is still the system the masses play games on.

+ Consumers are looking for more Wii Sports--Most sports games were most successful on the PS2, yes, but this was not the case for sports games with genres represented on Wii Sports. Multiplatform golf and baseball games surprisingly did best on Wii.

+ Exclusives still rule, and Wii rules exclusives -- out of the 100 games on this list, a full 34 are exclusive to one platform. The Wii's unique development environment ensured it the plurality of these exclusives, with eleven games on this list (twelve if you count Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition). The DS has a similar number, while the Xbox 360 only mustered a tepid three.

+ The common knowledge still applies -- just like last year, it still looks likes the best way to find success is to pump millions of dollars into an exclusive title of superlative quality, or snap up a license and shoot a version to every viable platform there is. This year a third route has opened up; making an inexpensive Wii and/or DS game and hoping it strikes a chord in the consciousness of the consumer. While the data does show that this plan was successful multiple times in 2007, this is a crowded field based on the rapidly depreciating novelty value of the Wii. It is likely that such strategies will not be fruitful in the future.
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This is just a small sampling of conclusions it is possible to draw from this data; our full analysis will run tomorrow. If you would like to see how this year's numbers compare to last year's US numbers, check out The Games People Buy 2007.

Coming soon: superfast internet

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The internet could soon be made obsolete, as scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement.

By Digg, Sunday Times
Posted April 6th, 2008
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At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, "the grid" will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds. The latest spin-off from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.



David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could "revolutionise" society. "With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine," he said.

The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their "red button" day - the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.

Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs - enough to make a stack 40 miles high. This meant that scientists at Cern - where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 - would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.

This is because the internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission. By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: "We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries."

That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world. One terminates at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

From each centre, further connections radiate out to a host of other research institutions using existing high-speed academic networks. It means Britain alone has 8,000 servers on the grid system – so that any student or academic will theoretically be able to hook up to the grid rather than the internet from this autumn.

Ian Bird, project leader for Cern's high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet. "It will lead to what's known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere," he said.

Computers on the grid can also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The aim is to eliminate the dreaded "frozen screen" experienced by internet users who ask their machine to handle too much information.

The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature's most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass. The LHC has been designed to hunt out this particle - but even at optimum performance it will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year. Analysing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it will keep even the grid's huge capacity busy for years to come.

Although the grid itself is unlikely to be directly available to domestic internet users, many telecoms providers and businesses are already introducing its pioneering technologies. One of the most potent is so-called dynamic switching, which creates a dedicated channel for internet users trying to download large volumes of data such as films. In theory this would give a standard desktop computer the ability to download a movie in five seconds rather than the current three hours or so.

Additionally, the grid is being made available to dozens of other academic researchers including astronomers and molecular biologists. It has already been used to help design new drugs against malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills 1m people worldwide each year. Researchers used the grid to analyse 140m compounds - a task that would have taken a standard internet-linked PC 420 years. "Projects like the grid will bring huge changes in business and society as well as science," Doyle said.

"Holographic video conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to include many thousands of people, and social networking could become the main way we communicate. "The history of the internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know they will be huge."

Economy in the dumps? Not for GameStop

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America's biggest video game retailer forecasts increased annual profits despite global credit crisis.

By Digg, CNN
Posted April 2nd, 2008
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(GameTap.com) -- The uncertainty that confronts consumers and investors in the U.S. is staggering. There's the price of gasoline, which creeps higher almost daily; a housing market that month after month gets gloomier and gloomier; and the conflict in Iraq that has cost the U.S. an estimated $3 trillion.



Is it any wonder that the Consumer Confidence Index -- maybe the most telling measure of how rank-and-file consumers view their economic health both present and future -- is at a five-year low? Shift for a second from the very real world of kids, homes, global conflict, and cars to the make-believe world of video games.

There, at least for some, the economy that is breeding so much concern and trepidation seems a distant factor. Times are good, with double digit growth expected for sales of games this calendar year as well as for the hardware that's used to play those games.

But even among the winners in the game sector there is one that stands to gain the most -- the nation's biggest specialty retailer of games and game-playing consoles, GameStop. In a perfect storm of technology, demographic shift, and pricing, the retailer is bucking the general trends in the broader economy and stands to profit like it has never before.

"As we analyze our sales deployment, we can't find evidence of the economy affecting our business," company officials said recently. "In fact, like we did after 9/11, we're seeing [comparable] store growth as consumers travel less and stay at home more, as well as trade in more games on new game purchases."

GameStop executives explained their enviable position, calling the present moment for them the outcome of the game industry reaching "a transformative stage made up of many pieces, all of which have a profound impact on our business."

The company's financials tell some of the story: for all of last year, GameStop's sales increased 33 percent, same store sales increased nearly 25 percent, and profit for the company increased 82 percent compared to the previous year. "By any barometer," one company executive said in a conference call with analysts, "[it's been] another outstanding year for GameStop."

One industry analyst, Janco Partners' Mike Hickey, forecasts growth for the company that builds even further on those enviable figures. "Accelerating demand for next-gen hardware including the PlayStation 3 should benefit comparable store sales in the [present] period," Hickey said of the company, who added it is not just demand, but broad demand which is fueling GameStop growth.

Success for GameStop is "highly attributable to video game play attracting a mainstream audience," with the demographic expansion having much to do with "new consoles like the Wii, which pull back on the geekish complexity of typical content aimed at hardcore gamers."

But it's really the library of upcoming games that will supply GameStop with most of its revenue infusion in 2008. Hickey said today he expects that the release of Grand Theft Auto IV could net the company more than $100 million -- in a single week.

"GTA IV...could ship 5.8 million units in the first week, or $360 million in retail sales and potentially $110 million for the Company," says Hickey. He said the game's publisher, Take-Two Interactive, is tracking higher than anticipated preorders leading to the game's April 29 release date.

Another game which should help GameStop tally record revenues this year is the second expansion pack for Blizzard Entertainment's phenomenally successful multiplayer game World of Warcraft. The game has an active user base of 10 million, a chunk of which has already proven themselves interested in acquiring product extensions when they become available.

The first World of Warcraft expansion pack released last year sold 2.4 million copies in 24 hours and 3.5 million copies in the first month, Hickey says. The game's second expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, is expected to be released in the second half of 2008 "and should provide meaningful product sales over a considerably larger World of Warcraft subscriber base."

From every vantage point, the year is shaping up to be one of record-setting revenues and profit for GameStop -- with more than just insiders noting the potential. Today on Wall Street, investors clamored for GameStop shares, bidding up the price just a nickel shy of $4, or almost 8 percent, to $55.66.

Hickey, who is projecting that GameStop shares will top $70 in the next year, says investing in the company "offers investors an opportunity to participate in the growth of the video game market with comparatively less operational volatility than publishers and offers [an investment opportunity based] on the remarkable success of the Wii and DS platforms from Nintendo."

NPD: 72% of U.S. plays video games

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Sales tracking group NPD has announced the results of a new gaming study showing emerging consumer trends.

By Digg, Gamasutra
Posted April 2nd, 2008
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NPD says the number of game-players has grown from its last study, up from 64 percent the year prior. More than half of that 72 percent, says NPD play games online, but relative to "total U.S. population," online gamers have only risen slightly from 40 percent in 2007 to 42 percent.



90 percent of online gamers said the PC was their platform of choice, compared to 19 percent for console and portable systems, and 3 percent for cell phones. Younger players make up a good percentage of online players, with 40 percent of online gamers between 2 and 17, with 18-24 year olds only making up 10 percent.

As for online console players, 50 percent were Xbox 360 gamers, who spent the most time per week playing online compared to PC and PS3 owners. Finally, NPD says only three percent of respondents said they owned two of the three next-gen consoles, and only 2 percent said they owned all three.

Said NPD analyst Anita Frazier, "Despite the buzz in the industry regarding online gaming, it is still relatively small compared to offline gaming. There is still a large, untapped market for gaming in general and online gaming in particular."