There comes a point where you just want to play games. Who cares about all this ‘hardware’ nonsense!? :p
Casting a Shadow - The Curse of Middle-Ware?
Originally Written on February 11th 2013
The Curse of Middle-Ware
Recently I was taking a look at a range of games development topics on the upcoming "OUYA" android games console and a certain topic came to my attention - Shadows.
As one of the most fundamental visual areas in providing a rich, immersing world I was intrigued to see what it was all about but I was surprised by what came next...
"Want to confirm - real time shadows won't work on Ouya, right?"
I was incredibly confused as to why someone would think real-time shadows aren't possible on a modern (if modest) graphics architecture But it turned out this was a Unity Engine related matter.
I already new that in Unity Engine versions before the latest 4.0 didn't support shadowing on mobile devices, but having introduced the feature I was shocked to find that it didn't support shadowing on the nVIDIA Tegra architecture. This is by far on of the most popular System On Chip architectures in high end smart-phones and tablets - Asus Transformer Pad, Google Nexus 7, HTC One X, LG Optimus, Sony Xperia Tab and of course the OUYA in this discussion - so I was confused why a very capable chispset would lack such a basic feature.
Turns out that the shadowing implementation for mobile devices in Unity 4 uses the GL_OES_depth_texture feature as defined in the as defined in the OpenGLES 2.0 API specification for mobile devices, this is a feature that the Tegra series of GPUs lacks.
What I was still confused about was the fact that old platforms, including age old PCs and consoles such as the PS2 and Gamecube had no issue whatsoever with real-time or even dynamic shadows - so it didn't make sense for a modern shader based chip to not support such a basic feature and this is where the "Curse of Middle-ware" comes into it;
So many people now use middle-ware to aid them in games development. They offer a deep range of tools, user interfaces, graphics and physics engines and often platform agnosticism. The years of work it would take to make an accomplished proprietary engine can be removed by adopting middle-ware and this has been fantastic for the games industry, however scanning the landscape of mobile games in example - I have noticed a distinct lack of basic rendering effects in the majority of games including shadows - which only feature in a minority of titles.
The ironically named "Shadow Gun" one of the most advanced mobile games developed only incorporates blob shadows.
Sadly, despite the advantages of the middle-ware platforms, it has led - in some cases to a lack of inventiveness and innovation in the graphics space. Many games i.e. those running on Unity Engine or Unreal Engine, look very similar if not the same from a rendering perspective. As you also observe the same visual merits, you see the same visual de-merits too such as a lack of shadows or other features, the hardware is capable of with a little bit of work on the shaders - which we're just not getting enough of. Its one thing that the creators of a middle-ware like Unity haven't created a cross compatible solution themselves but its another to see few attempts up til now to address that in games themselves.
This is a problem that can scale to all platforms where graphics middle-ware is involved. Unreal Engine 3 for example is an amazing engine available for multiple platforms from PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 to mobile platforms, but rendering techniques are 'safe' and developers are unlikely to change the rendering architecture on their own accord to improve features.
But on the bright side... there are innovators out there!
Shadow Volumes Toolkit by Gustav Olsson (available on the Unity Asset Store).
Above is an example of a developer creating a custom solution, taking advantage of the advanced shader architecture available in mobile chipsets. The result is a solution that works independently of the gl depth texture extension and therefore works on multiple mobile devices including nVIDIA Tegra based ones.
Unity Tegra Shadows Another innovative solution by Unity user PhobicGunner, available as a free unity package.
Middle-ware is a beautiful thing but the moral of the story is, we shouldn't forget to innovate and integrate our own ideas and technical features too, especially the simple solutions to big problems in 3D rendering.
The dramatic rise and success of a closed platform such as iOS is quite surprising in some ways considering the drive the industry and consumers used to have to make everything more open.
Women in Games - Part I: Sexism in the Video Games Industry?
Originally Written November 25th 2012
Let's talk about sex...
Unfortunately, if you were expecting a post based on reproduction you will be disappointed!
It is the final quarter of the year 2012 but it has struck me (and in fact many) that despite the fact that the days where computer and video games were considered to be exclusively 'boys toys' are well and truly over, it still feels like we have some way to go before we stamp out certain ideas and behaviours that suggests sexism is still alive in the industry.
That is not so say that women into games or who work in or enjoy games are outcasts or in dire straights fighting for acceptance, but they are still often subject to unnecessary comments or may be viewed or portrayed in a different way to their male counterparts.
With estimations suggesting anywhere between 40% and 50% of the market looking (varying dependent on the type of game i.e. console vs social gaming) consist of female customers, why is it that issues with sexism are on-going? Is there even an answer?
I would like to raise awareness and encourage debate on the issues surrounding girls in games and I thought I would take a look at a few case studies, picked out from my experiences and observations over the years.
Case 1: Sex Symbols
Image of Jade Raymond - (Wikimedia Commons).
Beautiful isn't she? But what has that got to do with the games? (Jade Raymond, Managing Director - Ubisoft Toronto).
You would never have guessed it...
Women do work in the video games industry too. Shooting to fame in 2007 as the producer of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed, Jade Raymond has become one of the most well known figures in video games.
For many, Raymond is an outstanding example of talent and career progression. Rising through the ranks of one of the most successful video games publishers of all time, producing one of the most successful new video game IPs in recent years and becoming Managing Director for a branch of the very same company in Canada. However, there are many great producers and many managing directors in the video games industry.
Jade Raymond (image from www.spong.com)
Sadly, there has been just as much publicity about her looks if not more. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being beautiful or desirable. There is nothing wrong with desiring those who are beautiful either but should her looks be brought up every time she is mentioned in an article to do with games? Should every forum thread on every video games website be filled with comments about how "Jade's so hot!", "Who wants Jade Raymond!?", "Ubisoft? Jade be soft!" and other completely pointless and irrelevant comments.
Why is it that rumours about Jade appearing in Maxim in "a green and white striped bikini" have to be posted on several major video games websites? Not only did she go on to deny this, its an example of video games websites adopting a "Sun" or "News of The World" (albeit a now defunct paper) style of Tabloid headlines based on forum banter (not even quantifiable facts) to draw readers in and exploit the public image of women like Jade.
Its unfortunate and rather pathetic that in the media and general public she hasn't been shown more respect for her programming skills or management skills, but what can we do? The drive to stop or at least reduce these behaviours and urges to treat every successful women as their next headline making model in the video games industry has to come from within.
(E3 Booth Babes - e3girls.com)
Oh dear... What is this you ask? Well, nothing less than the famous 'booth babes' popular in many trade shows across the video games industry (and for accuracy a few other industries too).
To this day, there are plenty of companies that believe the best way to sell and show off products is to throw paid models at 'us' males as if that makes their game better.
To a great extent I actually feel quite offended by the idea that I would even think of buying a game simply because a partially clothed woman was being paraded around in from of a billboard or games console in a convention.
Eurogamer Booth Babes from Sponsor Virgin Media (Image from lazygamer.net)
I actually attended Eurogamer this year for the first time and it was a great day out. However, I as many others did notice the presence of booth babes.
Three companies at Eurogamer this year hired booth babes to show off their brands, including the main and highly prominent sponsor Virgin Media. I made comment about this on the day, including the obligatory "oh dear", annoyed about the fact these companies felt the best way to sell their brands was to have scantily clad models.
A better advert would have been for Virgin Media to provide the countless paying attendees free Wi-Fi, which shamefully even the staff didn't appear to realise it was completely absent.
Now, I'm definitely not alone in my opinion about this brand of using women as objects to sell games. Don't get me wrong, women and men alike make good livings out of modeling their looks and bodies and that is totally fine and something I support so long as they're in control of what they're doing, but I do think its wrong to make out as if the gaming public is stupid and would be swayed by this form of advertisement. To add to it, there were an incredibly high proportion of women at the even. Maybe even 40% on the Saturday I attended yet we don't really see semi naked men being thrown at them for advertisement. I sense an old time case of sexism...
Thankfully, and somewhat prompted by what Eurogamer described as inappropriate dress, the MD of Eurogamer announced that they have seen the light and will be banning all booth babes from next year. Hopefully this move by one of the fastest growing video games expos will set a precedent and influence others to follow suit.
Jessica Chobot (image source lazygirls.com)
Hmm, this is one many of us will know... Jessica Chobot, often (and I guess correctly) described as a self made online celebrity, shot to fame in 2005 after an image of her jokingly licking a Sony PSP appeared online.
Since that infamous image she has gone on to become incredibly popular online, model for a clothing brand targeted at gamers and she even got a job at major video games & entertainment site, IGN.
Image (Wikimedia Commons)
Jessica is a natural on screen and has great mass appeal as an Internet personality. The thing that bothers me is the idea that all it may take for one to break into the highly competitive, highly desirable video games journalism industry is a display of sexuality alongside a popular hand-held console.
If an attractive man had a PSP sticking out from his trousers, despite being more extreme and more sexual it would probably be seen as being crass, but a woman licking a PSP in this case can bag you a job and have a load of male gamers salivating over the idea a woman looks beautiful and also enjoys games. To me, that's pretty laughable...
Case 2: Aggression
There aren't many things I find more upsetting than observing nasty and unnecessary acts of aggression against other people. One of the dark aspects of the world wide web, mass media and social media is the fact that it provides a powerful platform for unfortunate characters to bully, berate and mentally or verbally abuse others, even in what can be originally innocent and normal situations. Case in point? Video games conferences. In this section I will highlight a couple of cases that disturbed me.
Aisha Tyler Presenting a Ubisoft Press Conference on the eve of E3 2012, the most important yearly Expo for the video games industry (image from www.zimbio.com).
So, why am I writing about this talented, funny, amazing American actress today? Well, its because she was recently centre of huge Internet storm during and after her role as a presenter for Ubisoft's press conference.
So what was the controversy? So, it turns out that several members of the gaming community couldn't understand why a beautiful, well presented woman was presenting a video games conference and they decided to vent their anger and frustration through both inappropriate and racist comments towards here, posted on multiple social media channels.
Here is an example of some of the comments;
“Goddamn what an annoying fucking bitch. Ubisoft actually announced some good games and her and that fucktard backstage ruined every single goddamn presentation.”
“Don’t know who she is, but I don’t like her already”
this is what happens when you let the jews and liberals infect your industry_ to inject “diversity” and “progress” dont let them kill our games people
Now anyone with half a brain and who observed the on-line backlash (which was not at all restricted to the comments above) can tell that the only reason she was being criticised was because she was a woman and because she was black. Which of course is absolutely outrageous.
Aisha Tyler expressing her love of video games on her Official Facebook Page
Sure, video games companies have often been accused of using pointless celebrities to showcase their games in conferences and at expos but Aisha Tyler is nothing of the sort.
Having played games as a child, attended various video games events and voice acted for at least two game productions, her involvement with the industry is clear with a little bit of information.
Check out her defiant response on Facebook titled "Dear Gamers" - http://www.facebook.com/notes/aisha-tyler/dear-gamers/10151040991508993
The real problem is that she really shouldn't have to defend herself. Just because she is a famous black actress it doesn't mean that all of a sudden she has no involvement in video games, it is pure sexism and racism and anyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. This is not what we want or need in the industry.
This case is not one a Hollywood actress but this time a seasoned American Marketer best know for being the former CMO of Yahoo.
Joining Nintendo in 2007 to be the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Cammy brought her incredible pedigree and experience in the technology industry to a whole new organisation, unfortunately that experience couldn't prepare for what would come next.
During Nintendo's E3 press conference, described by many as one of the most disastrous of all time (due to its lack of any real games, no exciting announcements and questionable presenting), Cammie was to take centre stage helping promote the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo's attempts to exapand the market beyond the traditional hardcore gaming audience.
Unhappy about Nintendo's new found casual gaming focus and a drab presentation, as you would expect fans and foes alike took to the forums and other social media to voice their disapproval. But who was the first person in the firing line?
Viewed as being out of her depth, not hardcore enough and for being an inexperienced gamer, the self proclaimed "soccer mom" was targeted by Nintendo fanboys the world over calling her a whole manor of things for a soft, momsy approach to video games.
"Hopefully Nintendo will anounce wii domestic Violence starring Cammie Dunaway. At least she will stop smiling."
"this bitch needs to GTFO my nintendo"
"stupid woman knows nothing about games"
It doesn't end there but I feel there is no need to expand.
An incredibly smiley woman with a great CV brought in to help push Nintendo's drive to expand their market with Wii, far beyond that of the traditional game audience was effectively ripped apart online.
Now I have seen many people criticised for their performance on stage at a video games conference but I have rarely seen anything near the sheer hate that she received. Nintendo had a bad conference, Nintendo failed to show games and initiatives that played to the 'hardcore' gamer crowd and instead pushed family friendly products and material, but there was no need to target this woman with such animosity and clearly, an element of gender related abuse because of this disappointment.
The idea that Nintendo was now selling games to "soccer moms" and not just their kids looking for the latest shooter or role playing game, and they had a friendly if not slightly (to some) annoying face to help push and demonstrate casual projects, truly made these gamers angry.
I was on the forums during E3 2008, excited to see what Nintendo and all the other major games companies had to show and I saw the hate first hand when it came to Cammie Dunaway. I think its really sad and went to show some of the underlying problems in the video games community. It not only demonstrates a potentially hostile environment for women in prominent media positions but also the fact that anonymous forums and social networks full of trolls can present a fantastic opportunity for them to deliver such hatred.
As I said before, I've seen many bad presentations and with that I've seen many bad reactions, but I don't usually see the same level of hate and the types of abuse presented here against men. Cammie Dunaway got involved in the presentation declaring herself as a soccer mom enjoying her first forays into gaming, whilst Reggie Fils Aime, a seasoned Nintendo marketing man told hardcore gamers they should have Animal Crossing to look forward to (when they asked what games they had to look forward to during a particularly drab year for software).
I feel she was seen as an easy target...
Case 3: Female Characters in Games
Ivy from Soul Calibur IV - Is it me or did her proportions and clothing become more extreme over the course of the series? (Image - http://mygaming.co.za)
Overly sexualised, weak, unrealistic... these are just a few of the complaints when it comes to the representation of women in games.
We should be clear here, it is absolutely not the case that all women in games are portrayed as overly sexual beings, inappropriately dressed and outrageously proportioned women... and they certainly aren't all weak (take a look at Lara Croft or Samus Aran as prime examples).
However, just as in many forms of media (Films, Posters, Magazines, TV etc.) women are still often either shown in stereotypical roles i.e. Princess constantly being saved, women largely in non leadership roles/supporting roles. Or their bodies are used as objects with unrealistic physical proportions in order to attract a young, male audience that may be easily influenced - often distracting away from the fact that women aren't being given enough strong, independent, deep thinking personalities and instead the typically "easier" route of just selling their bodies instead is used.
Dead or Alive Paradise. Is this simply too much? (Image http://mmosite.com)
Dead or Alive is a long running game series, originating as a somewhat outstanding example of 3D fighting games. But it was always clear to see that the game was being used as a device for the designers and producers to push their own sexuality fantasies into a video game. The games even adopting a feature where in Dead or Alive 2, the higher the player sets their ages in the settings (goes up to 99) the more the breasts of the women will 'jiggle' around.
DOA: Paradise is the third in a line of games in the series where there is no fighting at all. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 and Dead or Alive Paradise are all about voyeurism and very little gameplay.
Here's what ESRB had to say about it;
Here the ratings body basically declares that this game is just shameful voyeurism, objectification, exploitation and unrealistic portrayal of women, however still, this type of game doesn't raise quite as many eyebrows and quite as much uproar as it should do.
Then again, its not illegal and people are allowed to express their sexuality and desires right? Very true, but seeing women so often used this way in games makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable.
In this article we've covered a few different areas relating to the issue of sexism in the video games industry.
The perception and portrayal of woman who work in games, the use of women to promote games, aggression towards prominent female figures and the use of stereotypes and sexual objectification of women in video games.
This article by no means exhausts all of the issues, all of the angles, arguments or case studies, but brings a few of the key issues into the limelight.
It may be 2012, but things haven't changed that much...
As something I've observed for years and something I know countless girls and women have been subjected to, I feel that despite all the changes that have taken place in this rapidly growing industry, there is a long way for us to go and there many aspects of this topic we must analyse and deal with head on in order to progress.
Video games may not be the only medium or the only industry with these very real issues of sexism but it is a very young industry. Male/Female gaming is fast approaching a 50/50 affair, more women than ever work in the games industry and being so young, we have an opportunity to make it an industry that is more inclusive, more equal and less inclined to exploit women in the games themselves or in the general media.
Is this just a pipe dream? I don't think so. We just need to work a lot harder and games studios and the video games media need to mature and take more responsibility, realising the power they have.
What do you think?
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS !!!
A few more articles I want to share, exploring issues of sexual objectification, stereotyping and sexism in games. This isn't the first or last article, so they make for an interesting read!
Quarter Life Crisis Action Hero - What Sexually Objectified Male Video Game Characters Look Like
Huffington Post - Sexism and Misogyny Ruin the Reputation of Video Games as an Art Form
Tech Thoughts - Microsoft Surface, iPad Mini, Kindle Fire HD & the All New Google Nexus Range
Originally Written on November 3rd 2012
Been a while since I last posted but I thought it was a good point of time to get back into the swing of things and express my latest thoughts on some of the hottest topics in tech right now, especially having had time to really think about the implications of the new hardware.
It would be a severe understatement to say that era of the tablet is upon us and an awful lot is happening right now in the run up to the lucrative and tech filled 2012 holiday season.
Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft company logos. All rights to these logos belong to the respective companies that created them.
Amazon and Google have thrown down the gauntlet, attempting to bring new dominant forces to the industry. Apple have reacted strongly to recent market threats throwing in all new iPads and Microsoft finally making their own big entrance to the tablet market, drafting in a whole new era for Windows and their own hardware development initiatives.
So, lets analyse the latest launches;
Microsoft Surface RT with touch cover (www.microsoft.com/surface)
First announced in June this year, the Microsoft Surface tablet had its full unveiling on the 25th October. Microsoft specifically developed this device to show off Windows 8 and its ability to run smoothly on tablets, especially those using ARM based CPU architecture. This tablet is currently available in one of two prospective flavours - Surface RT (expecting Surface Pro later on).
Surface RT is Windows 8 for ARM based devices, offering a sand-boxed Windows Experience and access exclusively to Windows Store apps. Surface Pro, which will release next year refers to Surface tablets based on Intel architecture (the Advanced Intel Core i5 CPUs and Intel HD 4000 graphics) that will run a full version of Windows 8, allowing users to install both surface apps and traditional PC apps much like a small laptop.
Having launched this along with their brand new Windows 8 OS for desktops shows that Microsoft really understands the importance of mobile and the fact it is pretty much THE growth area but does this pretty unit impress in the here and now?
I'm going to run through my views on the advantages and disadvantages of the Surface RT below;
- Great construction with a unique magnesium casing.
- Expandable Memory with Micro SD. Absent from Google, Apple and Amazon tablets.
- Windows 8 offering a fresh, intuitive tile based interface first introduced in Windows Phone 7.
- Windows file management systems offer depth and familiarity in managing and finding files like you would on a desktop PC.
- Fast hardware based on modern mobile technologies.
- Innovative Microsoft Touch/Type covers makes inputting data easy in addition to protecting the screen.
- Restrictive Windows 8 experience only allowing Windows Store applications to be installed. Windows Store itself has very few applications compared to rivals.
- No 7" version, where Amazon, Google and Apple have sub 7" tablet offerings.
- Low resolution screen at 1366 x 768 for its size at 10.1"
- £399 is expensive considering the tough market and lack of available apps.
- Microsoft Surface Pro offering full Windows 8 functionality on a tablet is not out for a matter of months and is expected to be anywhere up to £1000 in price.
- Cross-over with Windows Phone development and apps is not clear.
- Fears Surface is already threatening Microsoft's own partners given the huger marketing spend and media focus.
- 7" Surface RT at £159 with cheap but strong construction to compete with Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
- Break-even on 10" Surface and slash the price as the arguably superior/more developed Google Nexus 10 and iPad 3 make the Surface look over-priced, particularly given the significantly lower resolution display.
- In 2013, Surface pro should have at least 1 intermediate version using an Intel Atom CPU, and low cost but effective on-board graphics and half the RAM (2GB instead of 4GB). They should also use a lower cost construction, aluminium or poly-carbonate. These factors overall will bring down the all too vital price.
- Allow Windows Phone applications to be used on Windows 8 (RT, Home and Pro).
Its difficult not to feel some excitement for the Microsoft Surface. After all, much like when Microsoft entered the video games industry with the Xbox, Surface provides an opportunity to shake up the tablet industry too.
The problem is, the Surface has come at a funny time with its 10.1" form and minimal apps. Sure, launching with Windows 8 was a great way to build attention and to express the capabilities of the new software within a tablet form factor but in a quarter of the year full of 7" tablets (which have become increasingly popular) ready to take on Christmas and going up against highly established mobile/tablet ecosystems and stores, Microsoft have a problem.
I think it was a big mistake to launch a tablet product with little software at £399, especially when Google and Amazon are both out there with £159 options in the forms of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. But even at that price point, they would have been better off using an Intel Atom based unit with full support of Windows 8 in a surface pro, so they could compete on price against other 10" tablets but have the entire back catalogue of Windows Vista/7 and more ready for customers to use.
This could have been the key selling point in an age where other manufacturers are increasing their dominance and we don't have a full alternative for the dying Netbook as of yet.
I'm glad Microsoft have finally entered the tablet market but their push has to start next year. They also need to be careful not to scare of their hardware partners who cannot compete with a $1.5 Billion launch and to find a middle-ground between Surface, Windows Store and Windows Phone 8. For now, this may be a one to wait on before investing...
Apple iPad Mini (artist impression) - (http://www.apple.com/uk/ipad-mini/overview/)
It doesn't feel that long ago when the late Steve Jobs declared the uselessness of 7" tablets but the current market leader Apple are unable to ignore the moves of rival companies. With Tim Cook now in charge, they have responded to the stiff competition Google and Amazon have provided, now offering a device aiming right at the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire.
Sporting a 7.85" screen, the iPad Mini is effectively a condensed version of the iPad 2 with smarter styling and a much lower price than its older cousin. There is no doubt that Apple have released this to the market at exactly the right time, but the question is, does it hit all the right notes and will it be enough to hold off the competition? Looking at the pros and cons of the new iPad Mini I will explore its position in the market and what implications it may have now and in the future;
- Smaller form factor than existing iPad boosts practicality making it easier to hold or put in a hand bag than the existing models.
- Lower price point than iPad 3 starting at £269 makes it more affordable for the average consumer.
- Great aluminium uni-body construction in-line with the latest iPod and iPad designs.
- Approx. 35% bigger screen than rival 7" tablets at 7.85" in a design that can still be held with one hand.
- Rear facing camera.
- £110 more expensive than the equivalent offerings from Google and Amazon with the basic model. Double the price for higher storage and 3G offerings.
- At just £20 more than the new iPod 5th generation, the iPad Mini may unintentionally cannibalize Apple's hugely popular portable media device.
- The 1024 x 768 screen is larger yet lower resolution than the 1280 x 800 offerings from Google and Amazon meaning that the screen has a significantly lower pixel density and thus less sharp and holds less information or images. This lack of their latest Retina display technology means that the iPad Mini also has a lower resolution display than the iPod Touch 5th Gen and the iPhone 5 both with 1136 x 640 resolutions.
- Based on the iPad 2, it doesn't posses the recent Apple A6 chipset and is less powerful than the Google Nexus 7 considering the higher price point.
- New lighting connector snubs the practicality and universal nature of Micro USB and invalidates previous accessories for iOS devices.
- No NFC.
Apple can easily be criticized as a company that can be stuck in its ways, particularly finding itself ahead of the pack. The iPad Mini does show a clear intention to respond to the market and its changes, as opposed to imposing a single option.
On the hardware front, Apple have easily continued their commitment to making some of the best constructions in the industry with the sumptuous aluminium uni-body designs but that is part of the cost...
Whilst small, light and beautiful - there are technically superior options from Google and Amazon, offering higher resolution screens, faster processing and lower price points. Missing out on Apple's signature build quality, the Nexus 7 offers a 32GB storage 3G HSPA+ version for £20 less than the Wi-Fi only 16GB iPad Mini, making the iPad Mini a hard sell for the seasoned tech enthusiast.
That said, Apple have a strong fan base, a highly developed ecosystem and many applications available for their tablet meaning it will be highly adopted. Whilst not technically the best of the bunch, it will likely be the best selling tablet this quarter and is a much needed entry to the market.
Google Nexus 10 (http://www.google.co.uk/nexus/10/)
Google's Nexus 10 tablet was pretty much the biggest announcement in technology this week. Manufactured for Google by Samsung (somewhat resembling the design of the Galaxy Note 10.1), the Nexus 10 is Google's attempt to go after the market for larger tablets currently dominated by Apple with their iPad - this is a reverse scenario to Apple going after the sub 7" tablet market with the iPad Mini.
High end specifications with a modest design and price point are the name of the game for Google but can they beat their biggest rivals? There is a lot of buzz over device after the incredible success of the Google Nexus 7 and with their marketing force and aggressive pricing, there is every chance they could become a new king in this area. Examining the pros and cons of the new Nexus 10, lets see;
- The world's highest resolution tablet display. The 2560 x 1600 Super AMOLED HD display at 10.1" provides superior resolution and contrast ratio to any other portable screen.
- Starting at £319, the price beats the Microsoft Surface and latest iPads on price whilst offering better specifications. At £389 for the 32GB version te price gap is further compared to the equivalent from their rivals.
- 2GB RAM is double that of rivals.
- Rear Facing Camera.
- Sturdy Uni body design.
- Near Field Communication (NFC)
- Android 4.2 is the most open of its main competitors and is more evolved than ever.
- Despite the reasonable design merits, the Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad series have more impressive, metallic bodies.
- No expandable memory unlike the Microsoft Surface.
- No 3G connected option much like last season's Google Nexus 7.
Google Nexus 7 (http://www.google.co.uk/nexus/7/)
The Google Nexus 7 isn't a new product in itself. A 3G offering is however, adding another element to a device that's already selling over 1 Million units a month. With the introduction of a 3G model, the basic 8GB model has been abolished for a 16GB model at the same £159 price point. A 32GB model will come in at £199 and the 3G model with 32GB storage will be £239.
- Adds 3G data and more storage to a very well accomplished device.
- 3G model with 32GB storage is just £239, virtually half the price of the equivalent iPad Mini.
- Quad-Core nVIDIA Tegra 3 GPU/CPU chipset offering faster processing architecture than its competitors.
- Higher resolution screen than the iPad Mini despite having a slightly smaller display, meaning superior sharpness and more effective real-estate.
- Though not a bad thing, the design remains largely the same. The aluminium design of the iPad Mini will turn more heads and boasts great durability despite the thin, light construction.
- No rear facing camera. Sure, many devices contain a camera meaning there are alternatives but there are competitor tablets with cameras. No snapping image and uploading to social media using the 3G connection!
The Nexus 4 is the only non tablet device here today, but given its a brand new product in the Nexus line up, its definitely worth mentioning.
Completing the set, the Google Nexus 4 this time manufactured by LG (Samsung having made previous "Galaxy Nexus phones"), the Nexus 4 attacks the market in the same way its cousins are with a low cost yet super high end smartphone.
The thing that excites me the most, scanning the landscape of smart-phone industry we are greeted with expensive units around every corner. Especially when phones come un-subsidized (sim free) we tend to see prices north of £400. Some of the latest handsets can cost the consumer over £500 but this is where the Nexus does things differently. At just £239 this device in its entry level 8GB model is significantly cheaper than its rivals in the same specification range.
- 4.7" HD 1280 x 768 display (320ppi) with Corning® Gorilla® Glass 2. The screen rivals anything on the market for clarity.
- 2GB of RAM if about double any other phone currently available.
- Innovative photo-sphere camera offering 360 degree panoramic images.
- At £239 the entry level if nearly £200 cheaper than the iPhone 5 and over £100 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy S3 whilst offering similar and in some ways better specs.
- Latest Android 4.2 OS and early updates from Google.
- NFC support.
- Uninspiring design keeping things really simple!
- No expandable memory once more, meaning hat the entry level 8GB device will leave people feeling the squeeze.
- No 4G LTE option for early adopters of the new mobile network technology in the UK.
The Nexus 4 is not the first Google Nexus phone but the this offering will be their best value and highest spec phone to date.
For a high end imaging and multimedia device, the small inbuilt memory particularly for the cheaper version could be a deal breaker. I can't for the life of me understand the unnecessary crusade for certain companies to remove expandable storage from our lives when it is so useful and extra storage in the form of MicroSD can be picked up cheaply.
If you can look past a basic design and the above complaint, you do have possibly the best spec phone on the market pound for pound and a price point that would even put mid-range devices to shame. you also have the earliest possible OS from Google, getting them before any phone from other manufacturers, as well as the latest Android Jelly Bean OS installed.
I feel Google and LG will have a really successful device here but I would like to see more ambition on the design and memory front in the future.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD - (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B008UAAE44/ref=famstripe_kt)
After Amazon's wildly successful Kindle E-Readers, many wondered where they would go next with their software and technology platforms.
Last yearr, Amazon took a dive into the tablet market and released the Kindle Fire at the end of last year. Based on a highly customized version of Android 4.0, the Kindle Fire offered a 7", full colour tablet offering a lot more than a reading platform for books, but an alternative to other options.
The Kindle Fire came with a very aggressive price and impressive specs but the unit received mixed reviews, praising the form factor and price but raised questions over performance and flexibility. Can the Kindle Fire HD raise the game and push past previous issues to create the definitive 7" tablet?
- At £169 the price competes with the equivalent Google Nexus 7 model within £10.
- 1280 x 800 resolution matches the Nexus 7 and exceeds the iPad Mini. An 8.9" version available in the USA offers 1080p resolution.
- Much faster than its predecessor.
- Polarized display filter offers greater clarity than rivals in bright lighting situations.
- Apps and eBooks converged with the Amazon online app store and kindle services. Whispersync makes purchasing and synchronizing easy.
- Offers a lot more multi-media functionality than the Kindle or Kindle Paper white.
- No access to Google Play store and Google Play apps. Don't be deceived this is not a typical android device.
- Heavily sand-boxed OS with Amazon's customisation means you won't have the flexibility of a typical Android device.
- No 8.9" version in the UK which also means no 4G connected option either.
- Amazon App store hasn't got as many options as Google Play or Apple App Store. The mobile and desktop interfaces leave something to be desired.
The Kindle Fire HD is a highly competitive device offering more power than its predecessor, a low price point and an amazing display.
What will perplex some is that your experience is restricted to Amazon's own proprietary software, OS interface and Amazon App Store which has a long way to go before it is truly competitive with Apple and Google.
For Kindle or even Amazon fans (on the side of their ecosystem, digital store and Kindle books) the Kindle Fire HD would be the perfect upgrade over the existing Kindle devices and is likely to provide a lot more multi-media pleasure whilst offering a similarly sized device than can still fit into any bag.
The Kindle Fire HD isn't likely to pull in Android or iOS fans given the obvious restrictions and time needed for Amazon to really develop their offering but it is a device that offers a low cost alternative to anything else out there.
Question is where next for Amazon? A 10" tablet doesn't seem likely right now, particularly as that would stray quite far from the practicality of using a said device to read with. I could imagine a mobile smartphone announced before summer next year but we'll see!
For the best specification and flexibility at the lowest price, you'd have to choose Google where they offer high specs and a proven OS and ecosystem in three different form factors. The Nexus 10 will be the highest resolution tablet and will offer iPad beating specs starting at £319 whilst the Nexus 7 and Nexus 4 show a commitment to offer choice in the marketplace with equally low prices.
The design is a win for Apple, where their award winning visionary designer has got it right again on virtually all fronts. The sleek aluminium uni-bodies will turn heads and house reasonably advanced if not overpriced technology. You won't get the best specs for your price with Apple and they need to be careful where they position the iPad Mini vs the iPod Touch 5G, but the Mini is a much needed addition to the iOS family and will be a high seller.
Microsoft have put out a great product in many ways, but a price un competitive with Google, a restrictive and underdeveloped Windows RT and no 7" option, the Surface is currently a much harder sell. But there are definitely factors going for it and unique perks you won't find anywhere else.
Amazon are going from strength to strength and proving they can make a great tablet. I somewhat doubt the Kindle Fire HD can take away current Android and iOS fans who arguably have something better for them, however those new to tablets wanting to jump on board a new ecosystem and for people wanting a big upgrade from the famous Amazon Kindle, the Kindle Fire HD is a great choice at a low price.
Google Nexus series images are promotional materials from Google and distributed liberally through the open source android community. Microsoft surface image is purely a Microsoft owned marketing material, all rights reserved for Microsoft. iPad Mini image is an artist impression free to distribute and the Kindle Fire image is an Amazon promotional material.
Originally Written on August 14th 2012
If you are somewhat into the games and technology industry, yet haven't heard of the Kickstarter phenomena that is OUYA you have been been living under a rock for the past month!
The console was announced on the 3rd of July 2012 by Julie Uhrman, CEO of startup company Boxer8 and a huge campaign was launched on July 10th using Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform to raise funds for development.
Its kickstarter launch became the most successful opening day ever for a crowd-funding project on Kickstarter, raising its target of $950,000 in just 8 hours. Since closing on the 9th August, the campaign raised $8,596,475 destroying the goal set out by an incredible margin.
So what is it?
For $99 (or just a tad more post Kickstarter reward price), here we are looking at a tiny console that is fully open source. That means developers, enthusiasts and gamers are free to modify the platform and the OS as they see fit. No overhead and no bureacracy to releasing games unlike traditional console platforms and no lockdown on the system's interface and software flexibility.
Every OUYA console is a development system, every OUYA console is a gaming platform and multi-media system. This is a complete shift from the norm for a TV based console and is its major selling point.
This tiny unit is based on the latest in mobile technology, reducing its footprint considerably but it still packs a fairly good punch. Based on the Quad Core nVIDIA Tegra chipset, the console is capable of HD, shader based graphics and impressive multi-core processing power.
The full specifications are as follows;
nVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor
8GB of internal flash storage
HDMI connection to the TV, with support for up to 1080p HD
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth LE 4.0
USB 2.0 (one)
Wireless controller with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button), a touchpad
The OUYA controller itself has been pegged as the most important part of the system. As well as incorporating all the controls one would expect on a modern pad, that's buttons, joysticks and triggers - the controller also has a track pad, allowing the player to use touch and gestures for game play. This also means titles designed for Android on touch based devices can be translated more easily should a development studio wish to.
So that's the basics and it sounds great but what are the potential implications of this product and what are the pros and cons?
- Disruptive strategy benefiting developers. A completely open console isn't the norm in the current market, with the likes of the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii being closed platforms. These require the expensive purchase of a development kit to make games for the platform, the obligatory requirement for official developer licenses and restrictive distribution methods be it on-line or retail. This encourages productivity and innovation.
- Disruptive strategy benefiting gamers and enthusiasts. Gamers and enthusiasts have access to the hardware to make modifications, with an easy to open case. The software is open source too thus allowing modifications to the interface and software.
- A low cost, low footprint console with a beautiful modern design is enticing to those who wish to have a functional yet space saving console platform. Compared to other devices it can be put anywhere and can be transported easily.
- Innovative controller with touch functionality can help bridge the gap between successful gesture based controls on smart-phones and tablets and the traditional controller found with a console. Being an Android based platform with familiar mobile architecture, the innovative control will help to bring games from those platorms that could look amazing and play well on a TV.
- Massive community support smashing all expectations bodes well for the popularity and positivity of the device and its philosophy going forward.
- There are worries for some that OUYA may end up being a system full of smart-phone ports of existing games.
- Despite the announcement of some big names in development supporting the platform i.e. Square-Enix and Namco, the full software support is unknown at this point and will be crucial to the success of the console as a gaming system.
- The hardware power will not be able to directly compete with Xbox 360 and PS3.
- Modest pre-order numbers means a considerable installed base is not guaranteed.
- Apple are a potentially huge rival with speculation they will update the $99/£99 Apple TV box with full iOS app functionality. This would prove a tough, direct competitor to OUYA at sharp price point. It would also be running on the strength of a highly evolved iTunes/App Store ecosystem that is established in the market along with the fact that Apple has the deepest pockets in the technology industry.
In my opinion, OUYA is one of the most fantastic opportunities in gaming for many, many years. I was enthused enough to support development and make a pledge for the console myself, which I will be proud to receive in March should all go well.
The console could become a cheap, yet beautiful and functional hub for innovative games develop, much like what we see in the booming smart-phone industry yet in TV form with hundreds of independent developers rushing to bring great games to your living room.
The hardware performance won't be a match for the likes of the Xbox 360 and PS3 but it can still offer advanced HD graphics wtih a tiny form factor and low power and heat demands. It has everything you need to make a great game.
There is the question of Apple and they could quite easily dwarf any success OUYA could find (offering their own cheap box) but ultimately this will be an open platform which Apple will never provide and it will offer its own unique opportunity to cut out bureaucracy and restrictions.
I'm really exited for Julie Uhrman and the team at Boxer8 developing this platform. I hope the console sees a lot of success and I hope others embrace it too, as a genuine attempt to make something different has been made here and it could help change the ways of the industry at the very least to some degree.
All images are promotional materials borrowed from OUYA's Kickstarter page. For pre-orders and future updates on the platform, head to ouya.tv
"So much work and research went into making sticks feel good for a shooter that to reinterpret that on a device where you can touch any pixel is just brain dead, I don't get that."
Alex Seropian - Bungie Founder
The Time of "The PC" is Over - Or so they say...
Originally Written on Februrary 5th 2012.
With the news that mobile smart phones have outsold the PC for the very first time this year, I have been prompted to finally write a piece showing my observation on the shift to hand-held and mobile devices over the past decade.
In the new millennium we saw the start of an incredible boom in home PC ownership and an increase in home Internet connections offering access to the vast and infinite world wide web.
Through PCs over the years we've seen the rise in search engines, on-line encyclopaedias, shopping services, banking, blogging and so one and so forth, but the device that was once the fixture in
our bedrooms or living rooms is now seemingly being eclipsed - is this so? What are the reasons and why? May some of these figures and observations be in fact misguided or incorrect?
Firstly, I'd say we need to explore the reasons as to why the mobile phone has become so important and what is driving their sheer success in the technology industry and within people's daily lives.
If you think about it, its simply remarkable that we can use a small device to communicate with others on the go, wherever we are. Was there really a time when we only planned our weekend meet ups to the exact day and minute, at school or at work when we were all together? Was there really time when diaries were essential to storing friends', family and colleagues' contact details? Did we really make so many voice calls, through a strictly wired implementation? What did we once do if a person was late or delayed to an event or gathering or if they had to cancel?
Its hard to really imagine the way things were before mobile phones, but this is because they have vastly changed our lives and added a new level of convenience and flexibility we never had before. This flexibility alone is the principal reason why the mobile phone exists and went on to drive the first few billion devices, simply with the ability to call and later 'text', but its what happened next that really changed the game...
Mobile phones became 'smart' which is to say they did a lot more than just the basics we came to expect. Implementing simple computing functionality, they actually started organising our lives to a greater extent, with calenders and planners. Basic internet access through WAP (wireless application protocol) allowed us to access snippets of information once upon a time only big, devices connected to a phone line could only provide. This technology grew. Soon we had music players, cameras, larger internal storage of several gigabytes and expandable memory, colour screens, added and improved Java support, introduced more flexible internet browsers and we saw a huge improvement in network infrastructure, offering greater coverage . What happened to the mobile telephone? It became a computer.
Looking at the modern day, we have smart-phones that have HD displays, processors that break the 1GHz barrier and double up with dual cores, 512MB-1GB RAM, incredibly sophisticated operating systems. The smart-phone has grown into a full-on, formidable computing and multimedia platform. But what has encouraged the smart-phone specifically overtake the PC as not just 'some product' but as a personal computing device? I would say there are a few main factors, including; portability, fashion, accessible pricing - but more than that is the fact that they're always on and always connected.
This is the major difference between the PC and the smart-phone. Humans have developed an incredible appetite not only information but the ability to access it, 24/7. Smart-phones provide this with immediate internet access, the ability to access social networks, blogs and news anywhere.
The ability to be fed information directly onto their device and communicate through various channels beyond text messaging – much like the PC - but being on the go makes it truly special. Of course, the smart-phone isn't just about the internet, but the convergence of multiple consumer electronics devices - the music player, the gaming device, the camera and so on, which has added another dimension all together.
So is the PC 'dying'? Is it finished as a platform and an idea? Well, not necessarily. Firstly we should look into the changes the PC has seen itself. It may surprise many people that a year or two ago, market statistics indicated that 70% of all computers sold were Laptops. Considering this, the PC in its traditional form has long been on its way out, or more accurately becoming a smaller factor for the average consumer.
For years, proceeding the smart-phone boom, we've experienced the consumer's appetite for a more portable experiences to suit our increasingly mobile lives and the reduced living spaces some are becoming accustomed to. Mobile smart-phones, are merely an expansion of this to a great extent, as are the increasingly popular tablet devices (which this article is being typed on) that provide somewhat of an 'intermediate layer' between the Laptop and the Smart-phone, offering more practicality in mobile computing, yet all the connectivity and portability of the phone.
Now, it would be crazy to forget why the PC, Laptops included are in fact still around. PCs categorically offer superior computing power and a level of evolution and flexibility that other devices don't. Desktops offer full user upgrade facilities and unlimited ways to expand the platform. Development of advanced applications and systems would be almost impossible without the traditional computer, where software really is the key to our relationship with electronics devices in the modern day, beyond simply hardware.
The very ecosystems that were grown for out mobile devices were developed on PC. The power and flexibility of the PC has many implications for video games, with potential far beyond that of smart-phones, tablets and consoles, especially when we factor in user generated content which itself reaches outside the games industry. Not to forget, PCs still remain the most practical way to write letters, documents and effectively run and contribute to business on a daily basis.
Looking at these basic facts, we see that the PC certainly isn't dead and as a matter of fact is a necessary part of computing in our lives - however, we simply can't ignore the shift taking place. Sales aren't everything, but they're backed up by certain facts, for example; smart-phones are now the leading platform for internet access and e-mail across the world, this is even more prominent in developing countries. Smart-phone ownership literally doubled last year and the total mobile phone subscriptions in the world has reach nearly 6 Billion, in a near world population matching statistic.
My view is that the smart-phone taking over our lives isn't the death or destruction of the PC by any means, but quite remarkably, its what "The PC" has become. Much like the Laptops (which now dominate the desktop themselves) and the games consoles (with millions of installations and record game software sales and revenues) that came before our beloved smart-phone, we're just seeing yet another transformation and form factor of the very PC that started it all off. Sure we'll see many peaks, troughs and changes over the years - the eventual death (or at most optimistic prediction, 'near death') of the net-book yet the rise of the ultra-book and tablet and, the more specific, maybe even niche usages of the traditional desktop PC yet the rise of the smart-phone as the principle internet enabled device - and the continual presence of dedicated consoles, set tops and rise in smart TVs - but these devices will coexist in an environment where computing is everywhere and in multiple forms.
The Revolution is Here!
Originally Written on October 22nd 2011
I'm Adam Campbell.
Many online know me as AC-Revolution and amongst friends simply AC.
I would like to offer very warm welcome to tec-guy.com!
It's been a long time coming but I've finally moved to provide a both personal and universal platform to effectively broadcast my mind to the world.
I got this up and running rather quickly thanks to the tumblr platform but it's still subject to many possible changes in form in the future.
I'm basically going to use this a place to discuss my thoughts and opinions, share discoveries & personal interests or raise any issues in the world or industry!
Feel free to follow me and comment on anything I post. You can now also reach me on Twitter @AC_Revolution
See you around!