Game of Throne’s Tywin Lannister is in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

British actor Charles Dance will be known to many people these days as the man who plays Tywin Lannister in the rather wonderful Game of Thrones TV series but he has branched out and lent his rather remarkable voice to CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Voicing Emhyr Var Emreis, the emperor of Nilfgaard and one of The Witcher 3’s most formidable characters, Dance admits that this is the first time he’s been involved in a video game and he found it “quite exciting, actually”.

In the latest hype blast on the game, Dance says that the rise in popularity of fantasy [as a genre] was quite extraordinary and was no longer the realm of “children’s entertainment … the whole thing now appeals to quite discerning adults”.

I’m seriously starting to regret cancelling my pre-order of the game’s collector’s edition now: The game is looking superb.

I think I’d better start saving some pennies so I can pick it up when it’s out next month.

Deus Ex Mankind Divided? SquareEnix, take my money now

The hype has well and truly started: The next game in the Deus Ex series has been announced by SquareEnix.

It’s name is Mankind Divided. And it’s bringing back Adam Jensen, the likeable augmented main character from Deus Ex Human Revolution. I couldn’t be more pleased.

It’s been confirmed for PC, PS4 and Xbox One (not last-gen support which is no surprise) but no release date has been given. It apparently takes place two years after Human Revolution in a society where augmented citizens are starting to push back against their non-augmented oppressors. Apparently, Jensen is part of an Interpol-like organisation that is tasked with tracking down augmented terrorists.

Yes, this is a cinematic trailer but, my God, it looks so damn good (much stabbing, many bloods) and has me hyped for the next game in the series. Hopefully, developer Eidos Montreal have learnt its lesson from Human Revolution and won’t outsource the boss battles like it did originally in Human Revolution, which had to be fixed with the Director’s Cut release.

Fingers crossed, Michael McCann is doing Mankind Divided’s soundtrack, too: His work on Human Revolution is next to brilliant. Update: I just watched the credits at the end of the trailer and McCann is doing the soundtrack on Mankind Divided. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

Are you excited? I know I am.

All aboard the Hype Train! Toot! Toot!

 

 

 

LG G Watch R review: The future on my wrist

lg-g-watch-r-product-28

Two weeks on and sending a text to someone by talking into my phone hasn’t got tired.

I still get a kick out of it, actually, and it’s something that I love about my LG G Watch R smart watch. It’s something that impresses people, too, which is a nice bonus.

I wasn’t planning on buying a smart watch: It was something that was on my “It would be nice to have” lists but wasn’t a necessity. I had other things that were more important. But when I saw a near-new LG Smart Watch come up for sale on TradeMe then a Buy Me price appear, I just had to have it, despite internally debating with myself on whether I should buy it or not.

A few clicks later and it was mine.

I can’t say I’ve regretted it, either. I feel like I’m living in the future being able to do things like send texts and emails, start up external apps on my phone like Strava and search for directions.

The design

Why did I pick an LG G Watch R? (I’m still not sure about the name, though). Well, I wanted a smart watch that looked like a normal watch and not some techno-gadget from the future.

And LG’s latest smart watch looks like a normal watch, and I like that about it. I also don’t mind the size of it, either. I’ve read complaints about its large bezel and size but as someone who has worn Casio G-Shock watches since  I don’t  know when I find the size perfect for my wrists – and I don’t have massive wrists.

I like the fact that the glass itself is recessed below the bezel, too: It offers protection from some knocks, although I wear it to my part-time job which is physical and I did wonder whether I could damage it. People at work that have seen it have mentioned that it looks like a watch and not a piece of tech. That’s something  that I wanted from a smart watch: Something that does the things a smart watch does but looks like a standard timepiece. It helps that it has a leather strap not a plastic strap.

Heart rate: The heart rate sensor is in the middle of the backplate. The five brass charging pins are to the left.

Heart rate: The heart rate sensor is in the middle of the backplate. The five brass charging pins are to the left.

This watch looks classy and expensive, so LG have nailed the design perfectly. Interestingly, there is a heart rate monitor sensor on the underside of the watch and you can use your voice to get the watch to take your heart rate. It’s a cool feature after exercise but I found that it works better with the sensor up against the underside of your wrist.

The watch came with a cradle that you put it into to charge it (there are five pins on the underside) that match the pins on the charger. Like my smart phone, I tended to charge it every night – it’s just a routine that I’ve got into – but I could probably get away with charging it every two days.

The software

Like other Android-based smart watches, LG’s Watch R uses Android Wear to run apps. It needs some fine tuning but overall, the experience has been positive so far.

During the initial set up process you choose your language and connect it to your phone via bluetooth, meaning it has access to stored contacts.

There aren’t a lot of useful apps for the watch yet but I’m sure over time that will improve. Let’s face it: Smart watches aren’t a necessity so developers are probably still working out how popular they are and what to build for them.

I haven’t installed any third-party apps yet.  I’ve just stuck with what was pre-installed on the watch and I’ve mainly used my smart watch to send texts to friends and family and do things like find out what the weather’s like where I am, how far it is to somewhere I’m going and start up apps like third-party app Strava when I’m bike riding or going for a run.

These are all things that I could start with my phone but it’s just so much easier to talk to my watch and do it. Sending texts is as easy as saying “Ok, Google”then dictating your message. I found that if you pause too long between words the watch will thing you’ve finished and send the message to the recipient.

In the beginning I send quite a few half-written texts because I’d paused too long while thinking what to say. I’ve also learned that I have to say “fullstop”, “question mark” and “comma”if I want to insert those punctuation devices into a text. I have to say, though, I’m impressed with Google’s voice recognition software as many devices just can’t seem to pick up the New Zealand accents peculiarities.

As a test, I wanted to see how the watch would handle me sending a text message to my daughter Siobhan,  a name that has caused teachers consternation so I guessed it would do the same for a smart watch. I was wrong: I expected the watch to throw up all variations of her name when I dictated a message to her but no, it got her name right first time.

Every now and then, though, it would have trouble understanding what I’d said and I noted that when there was a lot of background noise it would take a while to respond to my commands, but overall, the voice recognition worked really well.

It had a few missteps, though: Once the voice recognition activated when I coughed while driving in the car.

Sapphire and world clock Two of the pre-installed watch faces on the LG G Watch R.

Sapphire and world clock Two of the pre-installed watch faces on the LG G Watch R.

IMAG0301The watch comes pre-loaded with quite a few watch faces, which you can change by pressing and holding the screen then scrolling through until you find the watch face you like. There’s a good selection of pre-installed ones including one with a world clock, a moon face, a hiking one with a compass and a classic watch face. You can download more faces from the Google Play Store (some are free, some cost a dollar or two).

Niggles

There isn’t a lot I dislike about the LG G Watch R but for some reason, every three days or so, the Watch R decides to loose the bluetooth connection with my phone and no matter how many times I tried to re-connect it, it refused to play ball. It meant that I had to reset my watch, meaning I had to go through the whole pairing/tutorial process again. That was frustrating to say the least.

Also, I quickly learned that to keep the phone connected to my phone I had to have it with me: A couple of times at the start I left my phone in, say, the kitchen then went to my bedroom, suddenly realising bluetooth doesn’t stretch that far.

What that means is that I’m still dependent on having my phone with me at all  times: Were not at the stage where I can leave my phone in the car, nip into the supermarket and still have connectivity through my watch.I still need to use my phone to respond to social media and the like.

The navigation using the watch isn’t that great: It misunderstood the street near my house several times so I gave up. I think if all you want is the nearest petrol station or restaurant then you’ll be fine but if you want the strangely spelt street near your house, you might be out of luck. It seems to be able to find directions to the nearest petrol station if you ask for directions to the nearest gas station.!

The price is also a little off putting. I wouldn’t have paid $479 (I think that’s what the LG G Watch R retails for in NZ) for it. I’m just lucky I found a cheap one ($200 does seem cheap) on an auction website. If I change anything, I might look at replacing the watch strap, but because it uses a standard watch size that should be easy. I hear LG does a sports model that is rubbery not leather.

The verdict

I’m loving my LG G Watch R and what it can do and I really think I’ve checked my phone a lot less since I’ve had it. Now, if I get a notification or an alert I just quickly glance at my watch and if it’s important I go to my phone but if it’s unimportant I disregard it.

It’s meant I spend less time looking at my phone and more time aware of what’s going on. Android Wear is a work-in-progress and I’m sure it’ll improve over time as will the number of must-have apps for the watch.

I have to say, though, the biggest thing I like is that  LG’s latest smart watch looks like, well, a smart timepiece not a futuristic wrist computer. I like that.

A smart watch isn’t a necessity – I know that – so I can’t recommend you rush out and buy one, but it is pretty cool having one where you can dictate messages to it and it’ll send them to people. I’m sure over time the functionality will improve, too.

But right now, I’ve got some Minority Report shit happening on my wrist.

Batman Arkham Knight delayed – again – but I can wait a bit longer for some Batmobile action

Warner Bros announced this morning that much-anticipated Batman Arkham City has been delayed – again – a few weeks until June 23.  It had been previously delayed until June 2.

I have to say I was a little miffed about the latest delay as Arkham Knight is probably one of the few games I’m looking forward to this year. The Witcher 3 is the second one.  After watching the latest trailer, though, which could be seen as a “Sorry for the delay. Here’s some awesome Batman action to make up for it” apology from developer Rocksteady, I’m prepared to wait until June 23. Oh, God, I’m prepared to wait.

My jaw literally dropped as I was watching the trailer and I heard an audible “Wow” escape from my mouth. I think it was an involuntary “Wow”. I just couldn’t help myself.

I also think I stopped breathing for a split second when the Batmobile arrived on the scene (about the 3:40 mark) after Batman had decided to “Even the odds” after taking out a multitude of bad guys. OK, I didn’t really stop breathing but it was a mightily impressive scene. Watch it and tell me you’re not impressed.

If the latest trailer is indicative of the final game, then Rocksteady can delay it for as long as it likes. Well, not as long as it likes, I’d like it out by June 23 please and I’ve yet to decide whether I’m going to pick it up on PS4, Xbox One or PC (I have to check whether my PC can run it, though).

If the game was out today, I’d be throwing my money to Warner Bros and Rocksteady right now but it’s not so I’ll have to wait. Oh, yes, I’m prepared to wait.

Oh, shit, I also just realised that The Witcher 3 will only have been released the month before Batman Arkham Knight. OK, I’m going to have to start convincing the wife right now that she needs to watch TV in the other room during May and June.

Wish me luck. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be. Perhaps some flowers are in order …

Burn, baby, burn: Just Cause 3 is real

One of the most endearing memories I have from the game Just Cause 2 (I think it was Just Cause 2) is using a grappling gun to attach to the rooftop of a car then deploy a parachute, letting my character just paraglide above all the chaos below.

At least, I think that was Just Cause 2. If it wasn’t it’s a game I want to play.

I suspect we’ll be able to do similar things in Just Cause 3, the next game in the series from Avalanche Studios. You can see at the very end of the trailer – which is more just announcing the game rather than showcasing gameplay, which is a little sad – our hero Rico Rodriques wearing a glide suit (that’s what they’re called, right?)

Oh, the soundtrack to the trailer is a rather cool version of The Prodigy’s Firestarter. Very cool indeed.

Shiftlings: a weird colourful world

I’ve no  idea what the game Shiftlings is about – and the first time I actually knew it existed was when Activision sent this video the other day.

It seems you play two work colleagues tethered together by an air hose and must work together to survive the perils of Zomegacorp. It seems bright and colourful, and a co-op game, but does have “suggestive themes and course humour” apparently. You have been warned.

So, here’s the video. It’s apparently part 4. I don’t even remember seeing parts one to three. Does it sound like your cup of tea?

Grim Fandango Remastered has made me so, so very happy

Update: I thought I’d document any glitches or bugs I’ve encountered playing Grim Fandango Remastered and I encountered my first two last night playing on my Macbook.

It was fairly early into the game where Manny is talking to a balloon artist at a parade near his office and I noticed the shadows cast by two skeleton pigeons were above the ground and flickering. The disappeared when I switched to Original mode.

The second glitch was when I tried to get Manny back into his office from the street and he was stuck on a audio loop from the conversation with the balloon artist. After a few moments clicking and moving around it righted itself.

I’ve made no secret over the years that along with games like Full Throttle, System Shock 2 and Blade Runner, Grim Fandango is one of my most loved games of all time.

Set amongst a backdrop of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the game tells the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent working the afterlife. Sadly, it didn’t sell very well when it was first released, I’m told, which is a shame.

In fact, I’m sure that I bored readers of a video game blog that I did for a New Zealand news website a couple of years ago to tears with my continuous ramblings about how much I loved Grim Fandango and how I wished the game was re-created for modern platforms. Note the photo below of my original disc versions of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won't sell them to you.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won’t sell them to you.

Grim Fandango comes from game developer Tim Schaefer and was released in 1998, an era when LucasArts was the king of adventure games and 16-bit operating systems were all the rage, but that means that it isn’t exactly easy to get running on modern OSs like Windows 8 or Windows 7. In fact, trying to get the game to run on a current PC is a nightmare.

Grim Fandango’s minimum specs are Windows 95/ME/2000/XP, a Pentium 133 CPU and 64MB of Ram so trying to get it to work on modern operating systems – both Windows and Mac – is, frankly, a hassle that requires a few hoops and you having to jump through them. You have to use a program like Residual VM to run the install files that you’ve copied from the install CDs – yes, CDs – because modern PCs with their 64-bit operating systems won’t run the stock installer from the game.

Modern PCs also created some inadvertent game play issues for Grim Fandango, as well. If I recall correctly, there was one puzzle involving a conveyor belt under the ocean that couldn’t be completed on a modern PC unless you disabled some of the CPU cores: Multiple core CPUs made the conveyor belt spin too fast!

After years of tinkering and file copying to get Grim Fandango to work on my Win8.1 PC and Macbook Pro, my wish has been granted with the released of Grim Fandango Remastered, a new version of the game which is exactly what it says on the box: A Remaster not a re-imagining.

So what has Tim Schaefer and his company Double Fine done with Grim Fandango to Remaster it? The character models are now sharper and more defined, textures are now high resolution, the lighting is now more atmospheric (venetian blinds cast shadows on characters when they walk in front of them), the audio has been remastered, the musical score has been re-recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the control scheme has been revamped (meaning you don’t have to use the tank controls if you don’t want to. The name tank controls came from the fact that in the original game, Manny Calavera could move forwards, backwards, left and right using the arrow keys within the environment. He did this little shuffle on his feet while he turned left or right, too. Essentially, he moved like a tank does).

The changes to the game are cosmetic. It’s not a complete re-build of the game so if you’re expecting an adventure game with photo-realistic graphics and 7.1 channel audio, then look somewhere else.  Grim Fandango Remastered looks and feels like the original game but with a new control scheme that makes it so much more enjoyable to play.

During the game you can swap between the remastered and the original graphics and essentially the only difference is the character models. The backgrounds are essentially the same, apart from now having higher resolution textures and the game keeps the original 4: 3 aspect ration. You can stretch the 4:3 ration to 16:9 but I wouldn’t: It just looks wrong.

A nice touch is the developers commentary that you can listen to at certain points. It gives a nice insight into the thought processes behind the game and why certain decisions were made (for better or for worse).

One thing that might annoy newcomers to Grim Fandango is its puzzles: They don’t hold your hand and there’s no hint system to help you if you’ve got stuck on a particular section. Some of the puzzles are actually quite obscure and don’t really make a lot of sense so you’ll need to do some lateral thinking (or search for a walkthrough if you really get stuck).   Seriously, though, some of the puzzles are down right confusing so you have been been warned.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

The game also doesn’t have an auto-save, something that is a given in this modern age and one omission that I wish was included in this remaster. Don’t forget to save your progress regularly if you play it or else you’ll face having to replay sections.

For me, Grim Fandango Remastered remains a classic and while I may be clouded by the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, I didn’t hesitate much to drop the NZ20 or so on buying it. The reason I initially hesitated was I mulled over whether I should get the game seeing as I had the original happily running on my Macbook. What swayed me was that it was only $20, which is four coffees from a cafe, and it meant I didn’t have to muck around with Residual VM to get it running. I don’t regret buying it.

While Grim Fandango Remastered is a piece of adventure gaming history, it creates something of a conundrum for gamers. On the one hand, if you already own the original you might have trouble justifying buying it again, even with the changed control scheme and touched up graphics. But on the other, if you have yet to play this classic and have always wanted to, here is the chance – but the old-school mechanics and puzzles might frustrate younger gamers.

Personally, I think it’s worth it, even if you own the original. Grim Fandango Remastered keeps what made the original game so great while tweaking it just enough to make it worth playing again. Here’s hoping it sells enough to convince Schafer and everyone else involved that a re-master is required of Full Throttle.

Here’s hoping.