The Witness review: When yelling at your TV is perfectly acceptable

My essential toolkit when playing The Witness: Smart phone, heaps of paper & a pen.

Note: I‘ve tried my best not to include images that may spoil The Witness for people. I think I’ve succeeded.

The picture on the right shows what  I like to call my “toolkit” for whenever I played The Witness, the long-awaited new game from Jonathan Blow, the game designer behind platformer Braid.

There’s my smart phone, which I used to take photos (lots & lots of photos) of puzzles that I would use to help solve other puzzles later on if there was several in a row (and there are plenty of times when you’ll have to solve sequences of puzzles). Then there’s the screeds of paper and a pen to scribble what I think are the solutions to puzzles: Crooked lines, jagged lines and dots where the start and end points are. Often my set up worked, many times it didn’t.

The Witness is a game where you’ll need paper to jot things down, to scribble in, to write notes.

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My essential toolkit when playing The Witness: Smart phone, heaps of paper & a pen.

At its very simplest form, The Witness is a puzzle game where you draw lines from point A to point B on hundreds of puzzles dotted around a beautifully colourful island.

The puzzles start out relatively easy – the word is there are around 600 or so and many of them unlock lasers that fire their beams to a mountain in the centre of the island  – but before long, chances are you’ll be pulling your hair out, screaming at the TV and cursing why the hell you decided to play this game because what Blow and his team is asking of you just doesn’t make sense.

“IT JUST DOESN”T MAKE SENSE!,” I heard myself muttering.

You’re allowed to curse, scream and yell at your TV when you’re playing The Witness. You have my permission (and you will curse, scream and yell while you’re playing this game).

I'm not sure what the mountain is all about yet but it's clearly important.

I’m not sure what the mountain is all about yet but it’s clearly important.

When that happens – and it will happen – I found pausing the game, stepping away for 10 minutes/2 hours/the next day then coming back to it  helped. Most of the time. I’d also find myself thinking about the puzzles in my head while I was doing something else, or away from my PS4. I’m not sure whether that helped solve things or not.

Things do get head-scratchingly hard and I have an admission to make: After hours and hours of failure on a puzzle set in the treetops, I did the unthinkable: I consulted a YouTube walk through to help me solve it. It was a last resort but I saw no other option.

Make no mistake: The Witness is a game that many will outright hate and question its existence and that’s fair enough: It’ll set you back $NZ60, which is a lot for a game that will cause you to scratch your head and potentially scream in frustration, even if it is taking place in a meadow with trees with pink blossom, spindly branches and apples …

Pink blossum, meadows, puzzles on screens. What does it all mean?

Pink blossum, meadows, puzzles on screens. What does it all mean?

The Witness doesn’t hold your hand: There’s no tutorial, there’s no “This is how you solve this, sonny. You’re welcome”. You’re on your own from the beginning, expected to work out what to do and what solving each puzzle actually does (sometimes it’s not so clear, other times it’s as plain as day). There’s also no order in which to solve things but if you’re completely stumped by a puzzle chances are you’re not ready for that one yet.

The puzzles are one of two types: Observational, where you have to use cues in the game world itself to help solve the puzzle, and mathematical, where you have to use sequences of colours or shapes to find the solution (ie like Tetris. Funnily, enough, if you like Tetris you’ll love a lot of the puzzles in The Witness).

See that tree house in the top left corner? Yeah, this area proved troublesome so I had to consult YouTube. Please forgive me.

See that tree house in the top left corner? Yeah, this area proved troublesome so I had to consult YouTube. Please forgive me.

I’ve been playing The Witness now for a few hours – I don’t know how many exactly – and I think I like it. I can’t say it’s been fun the whole time, because it hasn’t. I mean, it’s got puzzles that are designed to frustrate and confound but it has been rewarding. It has definitely been that.

Oh, and there are boats that you can use to travel around the island. I only found that out one night after I couldn’t solve a puzzle to open a gate. The Witness has boats. Here’s video of me going on a boat ride

If you’re who likes to run around game worlds shooting things then you’re going to hate The Witness. The Witness makes no apologies for being a game that challenges the player into using their brain and ability to work out sequences and combinations. It wears that badge proudly on its brightly coloured sleeve – and  I think I like The Witness for that.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ, which supplied me with a download code for The Witness.

 

My Bandai Stormtrooper kitset build Part 2: The end is in sight

Here’s part two of my Stormtrooper kitset build, where I tackle things like the arms, legs and reveal the completed build. I’ve noticed a lack of photos for some stages: Blame my enthusiasm to get the project completed (Sorry).

Luckily, I managed to video building the arms and the finished product so it’s not a total loss. They’re at the end of the photos.

I’m keen to build another model so let me know what you thought of this one.

 

The right leg is complete. The steps are repeated for the left leg.

The right leg is complete. The steps are repeated for the left leg.

This shot shows the knee joint bending, meaning you can pose the Stormtrooper.

This shot shows the knee joint bending, meaning you can pose the Stormtrooper.

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Both legs are attached as is the utility belt and the holster, which is the black piece on his left hip. I could have put it on the right hip if I’d wanted.

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OK, this is out of sequence but here’s the right leg completed and ready to be snapped into the hip articulation point.

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OK, this one’s out of sequence, too, but it shows both legs completed. The eagle-eyed will note that there’s a piece of armour missing from the Stormtrooper’s right leg. I snapped it off trying to put it on. I managed to get some Gorilla Glue and glued it on. Phew.

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Here is the piece of knee armour that I broke while trying to fit it to the right knee. Thank goodness for Gorilla Glue!

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Another view of the completed body with legs attached and utility belt in place.

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These are the pieces for the right arm. The black piece between the shoulder plate and the smaller piece of armour is the elbow articulation point. The other black piece is one of the six different hands that came with the model.

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And, despite missing a few photos, the completed Stormtrooper, complete with blaster and slightly menacing pose.

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The next two shots show closeups of the finished kitset.

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A better shot of the finished kiset. I’m really impressed with the quality of the model and you can see the knee armour piece on the right left that I glued in place. There’s a slightly visible seam but it doesn’t look out-of-place. He’s currently sitting on my computer desk holding a pistol in his left hand and point at something (the droids he’s looking for, perhaps) with his left hand.

And now, the video:

Returning to my teenage years: My build of Bandai’s Stormtrooper kitset [Part 1]

I’m trying something new here at Gamejunkie and documenting my build of a Bandai kitset model. If you like it, it could be the first of many changes on the site where I venture into new territory for me a little.

It’s scary to admit it but 30 years ago, or so, when I was a teenager I saw the original Star Wars trilogy and it started a journey that I’m starting to get back into now, with the release of The Force Awakens.

I had so much Star Wars stuff: Comic books that my grandmother collected from a weekly women’s magazine, Marvel’s comic book adaption of The Empire Strikes Back, activity books, action figures, art books, cards from bubble gun, a beach towel, a duvet cover and pillow case … the list goes on.

Perhaps my favourite SW things, though, were the kitset models I had: A snowspeeder, a speeder bike, and my most loved, a model AT-AT that my father and I built. It was magnificent and we even made a base with plaster of paris snow to attach it to. It was awesome – but it got smashed by some half-wit removal company guys when we moved from Wellington to Christchurch.

I’d always had a love of SW kitset models and over the past few years I’d played with the idea of getting back into it but I never did – until now. I think the catalyst was the new SW movie, The Force Awakens. It just prompted me to get back into Star Wars kitset models again.

So when I got back from our Christmas holiday, a coupe of weeks ago I went on Trademe and bought a Bandai Stormtrooper kitset – and I couldn’t have been happier. I tossed up getting a vehicle (Snowspeeder or AT-ST) or Boba Fett, but I decided thta  the Boba Fett might be too advanced for me: It would need some painting skills to weather him up so he looked battle-worn, and I don’t have those skills. So, I decided on the Stormtrooper and I’m glad I did.

The Stormtrooper is perhaps one of the most iconic characters from the original Star Wars trilogy and they just look cool. Badass. So, yeah, the Stormtrooper it was. What I really liked about these Bandai kitsets is that there is no glue to join the parts together: Everything is snapped together, so it’s clean and there’s no mess. What I also liked is that all the black underneath the white armour is separate pieces, like a suit, so it makes for a more realistic look.

I also decided that I’d document the build process, which is something different for my site, but I thought if you’re considering buying one and doing what I did, I thought you might like to see the process. It’s not a step-by-step build, with photos of me making each piece, but it shows the progress as I go. I’ve also posted three of short videos of the head/helmet/body build before the photos. I’m thinking I’ll post the build process in two or three parts.

I’m really pleased with the finished product, which probably took me about 5 hours total over two days, and I’ve already decided that I want to expand my stormtrooper collection so am hunting for the next project.

I hope you like watching the process to build the kitset. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Here we go: First up, is part 1 that shows the box, the sprues the parts are attached to, building the head and chest & connecting the head to the body. Enjoy.

     

The box for the Bandai Stormtrooper kitset model. It's a nice box.

The box for the Bandai Stormtrooper kitset model. It’s a nice box.

All the pieces that make up the model. Those things are called sprues. I didn't know that until recently.

All the pieces that make up the model. Those things are called sprues. I didn’t know that until recently.

The instructions for the kitset model. Yep, they're all in Japanese - but there are pictures, so that was great.

The instructions for the kitset model. Yep, they’re all in Japanese – but there are pictures, so that was great.

All the sprues out of the box, ready for me to start. I don't know how many parts there are, but it looks a lot.

All the sprues out of the box, ready for me to start. I don’t know how many parts there are, but it looks a lot.

The storm trooper's head complete. It's actually about five or six parts, all snapped together to form the one piece.

The storm trooper’s head complete. It’s actually about five or six parts, all snapped together to form the one piece.

The next three images show the torso complete with the neck attached.

The next three images show the torso complete with the neck attached.

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So it seems I forgot to take some photos of building the groin area, which you can see attached to the torso. The head is now attached to the neck, which is on a balljoint, meaning it can be articulated.

So it seems I forgot to take some photos of building the groin area, which you can see attached to the torso. The head is now attached to the neck, which is on a ball joint, meaning it can be articulated.

Samsung Gear S2 review

The smartwatch market is crowded: Just about every phone manufacturer worth a dime has a smartwatch out, so it pays to be a little different to stand out from the crowd.

SamsungGearS2Samsung’s Gear S2 smartwatch has a rotating bezel to make it standout. And standout it does. It could well be the best smartwatch on the market right now.

The Gear S2 is compatible with a number of Android smartphones but the bezel really does stick out as a highlight of using it. It’s intuitive and it just makes sense to twist it left and right to access the watch’s information. Yes, you’re still going to have to tap the touchscreen to access applications and do things like set alarms and dismiss notifications, but the bezel is a nice way of seeing those notifications or how many steps you’ve walked or what the weather’s doing. I actually just found myself twisting the bezel because it was so much fun: It just works.

The Gear S2 seems a more sports-orientated watch, thanks to its construction and rubbery straps, as well as built-in heart rate aGearS2pps and active activity counter (the watch even prompts  to move around when it senses you’ve been inactive for too long) and while you can replace the straps (not with standard watch straps, though) you’re not going to wear the Gear S2 as a dress watch. Talking of straps, I, ahem, ah, managed to somehow snap both off my review unit S2. Maybe the unit had had a hard life thanks to other reviewers or I don’t know my own strength but it’s the first time I’ve ever done that in years of reviewing hardware.

Where the Gear S2 differs from its smartwatch counterparts is that it’s not using Android Wear as most Android-based smart watches do, but Samsung’s own Tizen operating system, and it’s a nice one at that, which a clean look and responsiveness.

Compared with Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, there are nowhere near as many apps for Samsung’s Gear S2 but that’s not necessarily a bad thing: It means the Gear S2 isn’t bogged down by thousands and thousands of pointless apps. For me, there was no Tizen version of cycling/running app Strava for the Gear S2, which was annoying, so if you’re the type of smart watch wearer who needs an almost inexhaustible supply of apps for your watch, you might have to look at another smartwatch.

Look, I really loved the Samsung Gear S2 watch. If I was going to buy a smartwatch to replace my LG G Watch R, it would be would be the Gear S2. I really do think it’s the best smartwatch on the market right now. Plus it’s got that rotating bezel. It’s a winner.

How Mike Bithell’s Volume has made me play my PS Vita more

Fourteen days into 2016 and reckon I’ve already played my PS Vita more this year than I did for much of last year.

I put that down to two things: a) Going on holiday, so my Vita was a nice portable way to replay some of my favourites like Gravity Rush and TxK and b) I bought Mike Bithell’s (@mikeBithell on Twitter) Volume, which came out on the Vita on January 6. I’ve played my PS Vita more because of Volume.

I can’t express enough joy at what a great game Volume is, not only because of its addictive qualities but that it’s also one of PlayStation’s Cross-play buys, which means if you buy it on PS Vita you automatically get to download it for free on the PS4 (and vice versa).

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_17_37The premis of Volume is simple enough: You take the role of burglar Tom who uncovers a plot involving a military coup and device called the Volume. Using the Volume to simulate high-profile heists, Tom must guide his avatar around industrial environments, avoiding patrolling guards, sentry turrets and dogs while collecting gems. The simulations are broadcast to the internet using the Volume, eventually leading to a stand-off between Tom and the evil Gisborne, who has taken over control of England.

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_25_33Volume is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, with an isometric third-person, top-down perspective, in that stealth and creeping around to avoid detection is to the fore. Get spotted by a patrolling guards (each has a vision cone indicating its field of vision), you have to re-start the level. Each level short – some take less than a minute to complete – but they’re so addictive that you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more. Just one more”.

Bithell is a British indie developer who also make the cutesy game Thomas was Alone, which I like a lot, and Volume has all the trademarks of another hit for Bithell and his team. I initially purchased it for my Vita – and being able to play it on my PS4 for no cost is an added bonus – and if I had any gripe it was the size of the text on the PS Vita version: It’s just too small for my ageing eyes.

So, I tweeted that to Bithell, and guess what? He got back to me shortly after, admitting the text was a little small and he would look at fixing things in a patch. In a simple thing like replying to my tweet, Bithell has proven to me that he’s a developer who cares about his fans and those that pay for his games. That’s something I admire in a developer. Thank, you, Mike.

I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that I play my PS Vita more. It’s a fantastic handheld console but I feel disappointed that Sony have pretty much abandoned it by not supporting it like it should have with first party titles, and left any game development up to third parties.

That said, maybe that’s not a bad thing: Sony is clearly focused on the PS4 and PlayStation VR so perhaps doesn’t want to develop for the Vita half-heartedly. It’s sad, though, that the company hasn’t shown the console more love.

Putting Volume aside (briefly), there are some pretty nice games coming out this year. Games I’m looking forward to include Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Horizon Zero Dawn, Firewatch, Hitman, Quantum Break, Dishonoured 2, Crackdown 3, Mass Effect Andromeda and Unrave.

Sure, some have already been delayed already and I suspect many some of them won’t make 2016 but it’s a pretty great line up already, don’t you think? It’s a great time to be a video gamer.

What are you looking forward to this year?

 

The final post for 2015: Thanks for your support

notepad-with-pencil-of-spiral-bindingSo, 2015 is almost at a close so this will be the last blog post for a week or 10 days as I’m heading away on holiday tomorrow for a few days to try to relax, test out my new mountain bike and have a change of scenery.

It’s been a relatively good year, video games wise for me, although perhaps I haven’t played as many games as I would have liked (I’m sure I can rectify that next year: I am to finish some of the many partially completed games on my Steam list).

It was a year of some average, overhyped AAA titles and some unexpected surprises.  It was a year I finished one part-time job and started a new one, which turned into a full-time job not long after. It was a year of highs, it was a year of lows. It was, well, a year.

The blog itself seems to have gone from strength to strength, at least I think it has as it seems to be picking up more subscribers and readers, but during at least one point during the year, I contemplated shutting down the blog. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to keep it going, whether anyone would care if I kept it going.

But I did keep it going, obviously, and that was due to you, the reader that has supported the blog. I know this isn’t the biggest or best blog around and it’s popularity is tiny compared to the numbers I got when I was a blogger for a major online news site, but I appreciate that you take your time – no matter how small that amount of time is – to read (or, at least, browse through what I’ve written) my ramblings on this forum. I really, really do appreciate it..I want to thank you for your support. I know this blog is never going to get thousands of viewers every month or be “The World’s Biggest Gaming Site” but I appreciate every single reader that visits. Seriously, I do.

The blog market, and the video game blog market especially, seems to be crowded, with more and more writers clambering to reach the top and be the next big thing. I don’t need to be the next big thing and I’m not going to promise the world to get you to read.  I’m too old for that now. I just want to keep writing content that will, hopefully, engage readers and keep those loyal ones hanging around for a little longer. I hope my experience speaks for itself and keeps loyal readers around for at least a few more months.

So, that’s it for 2015. As far as the blog goes, I want to try and step it up a gear in 21015: Post more regularly, have more content, generally make it better.

So,  have an awesome New Year’s Eve, whatever you have planned. Play some games, relax, drink your favourite drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and here’s to 2016. May it bring challenges and new surprises. See you on the other side.

 

My most loved games of 2015

When I wrote for a metropolitan newspaper, I did the obligatory “Games of the Year” write-up, which culminated in my best pick as Game of the Year.

I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m not going to decide from the games I’ve played this year (which hasn’t been as many in past years) which one is the best of the lot. What I’m going to do is tell you which games were my highlight of the year, in no particular order.

Let’s start, shall we?

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I've written about the game they star in, too.

The cast of Until Dawn: They quite like what I’ve written about the game they star in, too.

Until Dawn: Something of a surprise hit to everyone, which is even more surprising as I can’t recall it getting a lot of marketing love from PlayStaiton. It’s also a game that I didn’t actually play until after watching a YouTube walkthrough. Yep, that’s right: I played it after watching a video playthrough. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror games and Until Dawn is a horror game, through and through, so I wanted to see how scary it was going to be. It has jump scares but it’s almost like a pick-your-own adventure where you determine the path that the characters take then they do it. Yes, it’s cliche-ridden and holds your hand at times but it’s horror done right.

BatmanBatman Arkham Knight: Probably one of the only AA titles that I really, really enjoyed this year. I’ve always liked Rocksteady’s take on Batman and Arkham Knight was no different, even if the Batmobile might have been overused too much and there were too many of those damn tank battles (those who have played it will know what I mean). What I’ve always liked about Rocksteady’s Batman series is the grittiness and the ever presence darkness that Batman is all about. Arkham Knight might not be the best in the trilogy but it’s damn good. [I’m sure someone will exclaim “But you can’t say Arkham Knight was a good game because it was broken on PC!”. Actually, I can say it was a good game because a) I played it on PS4 and had no problems  and b) it’s my list and I can have whatever games on it I like.]

life-is-strange-episode-1-0016Life is Strange: Dontnod’s episodic coming of age story about Arcadia Bay teenager Max Caulfield (with a little bit of super powers thrown in) was a bit of a slow burner for me. I played the first episode months ago, and liked it, but it didn’t capture me right away. May it was the at times cringe-worthy dialogue, but I could see it had promise and Max’s ability to rewind time to change events held all sorts of interesting propositions. For some reason or another, I didn’t start playing the second episode until few weeks ago. I finished it a couple of nights ago and I’m interested again. It was if the writers stepped things up a notch at episode two and it’s not captured my attention. Hopefully, I’ll finish the other episodes before the end of the year.

screenshot0607Everybody’s Going to the Rapture: Yes, The Chinese Room’s latest game could be described as a walking simulator because that’s what you do most of the time but I loved it for the story that it told and the emotional narrative. Set in a quaint English village after an apocalyptic event, the player has to unravel and piece together what has happened to the villagers by tracing the paths left by, I guess, their spirits that are still around the village. The story telling and emotional voice acting is what gripped me from start to finish. I didn’t care that it was slow-paced and measured. It was quite nice not having to shoot anything, either.

rise-of-the-tomb-raider08Rise of the Tomb Raider: The latest game featuring long-time video game adventurer Lara Croft is perhaps one of the best as she once again tries to find a precious artifact that will destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands. While being an Xbox One exclusive for the time being may harm the sales of the game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot because, pure and simple, it features more tombs to explore, and that, for the most part, is why people started playing Tomb Raider games. Rise is a return to form for the series.

What are your favourites for the year?

Samsung Gear VR: Virtual Reality in your living room

I’m standing in a shark cage, steel bars inches from my face. Bubbles rise to the surface of the crystal-clear water. I turn my head 360 degrees and see nothing but ocean and the rising bubbles. It’s a serene scene.

After a few moments, there’s movement in the distance. A dark shape slowly moves towards the cage. Then another.  I can’t make them out at first they become clear soon enough. They’re great white sharks.

For a moment, I actually flinch a little when a shark gets too close to the cage. Welcome to the world of virtual reality thanks to Samsung.

.I’ve used a pair of cardboard VR goggles from the back of a cereal box before (they were pretty useless) but Samsung’s VR headset is my first experience with a modern, affordable VR headset.

20151222_145751The headset looks like a fancy pair of goggles and is quite bulky but it’s solidly built and, surprisingly, fit comfortably on my head. A Samsung phone (in this case an S6) clicks into the front of the unit using two latches, one of which has a connector that fits into the phone’s mini USB port. There’s a scroll wheel that lets you adjust the focus. You plug headphones into the phone’s headset port..

[Update: Someone has asked me how I found the image quality: Whether I found things blurry. Some times it was a little blurry, but I wonder whether part of that was down to my deteriorating eyesight. A professional lifetime of staring at computer screens might be starting to take its toll …]

When you put the headset onto your head the phone’s software and the Oculus operating system kicks in, and this is your first experience of virtual reality. You find yourself in a large, cavernous room/apartment, with a pool at one end and wooden floors below you. I found myself rotating my computer chair so that I could take in everything around me. It’s fascinating (I really recommend if you’re going to use a VR headset, do it seated in a chair that can rotate. It helps with the experience)..

It’s hard to describe what VR is like without seeing it for yourself. You have to experience it for yourself to actually “get it” and see what it’s like. I could rabbit on for hours and hours on how I found it but you have to experience it for yourself to really understand what it’s like.

The view from the front of Gear VR. The phone clips in front of the two lenses.

The view from the front of Gear VR. The phone clips in front of the two lenses.

The Gear VR proved a hit with my family, too, with older members reaching out and trying to touch dinosaurs that weren’t there and  “Oohh” when dolphins swam past them. It showed to me that VR has no barriers and Samsung has made it accessible to the masses.

Perhaps the strangest sensation with the underwater demo is that you can’t see your hands or feet, or any part of your body. It’s quite disorientating not being able to see your limbs as you look around a virtual space but your mind is tricked into thinking you’re actually in the scene strapped to your head.

I was watching an episode of Mad Men using the Netflix apps (yes, you can watch Netflix using the Gear VR) and you’re transported to a chalet in the mountains. Out the window to your left are snowy mountains, To your right are movie posters. There’s a log fire, a plush leather sofa and a wall-mounted TV surrounded by stone columns. It’s sort of holiday cabin I wish I could afford.

Anyway, at one point, my mind started believing what I was seeing and I tried to put something I was holding in my right hand onto the right hand side of the couch. I actually believed I was siting on a couch, watching Netflix.

I demoed some first-person shooters using a supplied bluetooth controller but the technology isn’t quite there yet to create a really immersive experience. My friend Ross, who recently tested out a Samsung Gear VR as well, was able to get a VR version of Quake running. I couldn’t work it out. One thing I noticed was that I couldn’t use the headset for too long or else my eyes started getting sore.

Virtual Reality is in its infancy but if announcements at gaming trade shows is anything to go by VR is the in-tech at the moment: Is it the next 3D?

Here's me wearing the Samsung Gear VR. It's hard to look cool wearing a VR headset, to be honest.

Here’s me wearing the Samsung Gear VR. It’s hard to look cool wearing a VR headset, to be honest.

What Samsung VR headset has done is bring virtual reality to the living room at an affordable price.  The headset unit will set you back $200, which I think is pretty reasonable for the hardware. Of course, you’ll need a 2015 Samsung phone but lots of people have those nowadays.

I haven’t tried a Oculus Rift unit so I can’t compare the two and say whether one’s better than the other but I was impressed with the Gear VR and how immersed I felt in its virtual reality worlds. And at $199, it’s affordable but there’s one caveat: You have to have a 2015 Samsung smart phone to make it work. I don’t so I’d have to buy a Samsung phone as well as the headset so it could get pricey!

I wasn’t sure what I thought about VR until I’d tried out the Samsung Gear VR and now I’m sold. VR still has a way to go to go to make it a truly immersive experience but there’s something about being able to fool your brain into thinking that you’re actually watching a dinosaur waking up or sitting in a shark cage, surrounded by aquatic life.

 

Element: The realtime strategy game for those who don’t have lots of time for RTS

element_005According to Tauranga, New Zealand game developer Flightless, Element is a real-time strategy game set in space “for people who don’t have time to play realtime strategy space games”.

The game is currently on Steam Early Access for PC, Mac and Linux, and over the years, I’ve covered games made by Flightless (most notably its iOS game Bee Leader) so was lucky enough to get a Steam code for Element.  As you can see from the screen shots, it’s got a really nice art style to it and colour palate. I also hear it was received favourably at this year PAX Aus, and, frankly, I can see why.

element_008Element’s story is set in a time where you are onboard a space craft escaping a decaying solar system. You must visit each planet, mine enough element and defeat the enemy to progress to the outer planets and beyond. You’ll build attack and defence units and assault enemies while mining the planet you’re on for valuable resources using the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

I’ve had a few games of Element and things start off easily, with just a few enemy units to get rid of, but as the game progresses it gets harder, and you find yourself having to flick between mining resources and attacking enemies. You’ll find yourself rotating the planet as you plonk down defensive units then target enemy attack units, hoping to shoot them out of the sky before they destroy your base.

I think Flightless are on the money when they said Element is a realtime space strategy game for those who don’t have time for realtime space strategy games which, let’s be honest, require hours and hours of time to play. I like that Element is the sort of game that you can play through one or two campaign then call it quits for the night but still feel satisfied.

Here’s me playing through Element’s tutorial level:

I’m really liking Element so far and I’ll continue working my way through its planets. No doubt things will get tougher as it progresses, with tougher enemies and challenges, but I love its art style and, importantly, it’s a realtime strategy game that has mission campaigns that are short enough for busy people, like me (and I’d say you too, dear reader) so I don’t have to dedicate a million hours to progress.

I love, too, that Element is from a New Zealand developer that I’ve followed closely over my years as a games writer.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Element.

Huawei Smartwatch: A classy and stylish piece of wearable tech

Since getting a Huawei smartwatch, my usual watch, an LG G Watch R, has been sitting unused and idle, gathering dust. Well, that’s not true: My teenage son has decided to flit between the LG and my FitBit surge.

I’ve hardly taken the Huawei watch off my wrist in the past two weeks. In fact, the only time I’ve taken it off is when I have a shower and when it needs charging. I really grown to love the watch, which makes my LG seem, frankly, bulky and unwieldy.

The Huawei makes a class impression from the moment you open the rather large box it comes in. The matte black stainless steel version that I had (it also comes in a stainless steel and gold versions) was nestled on a faux leather liner in the box, with the watch placed strategically in the middle. It oozed class and style.

An email notification appears on the Huawei's AMOLED screen. Swipe to the left to close it, swipe up to dismiss the program.

An email notification appears on the Huawei’s AMOLED screen. Swipe to the right to close the email,  swipe up to dismiss the program. Easy.

With a 1.4-inch AMOLED screen (with a resolution of 400×400) and 4.2mm in diameter, the Huawei watch will suit smaller wrists and won’t look out-of-place on your wrist, like I feel that my LG does at times, and I liked that the watch’s strap was a standard 18mm strap, meaning you can replace it easily. It comes with all the features you’d expect  a wearable to have, including a surprisingly accurate heart rate monitor. The only button on the watch is one set at the 2 O’Clock position. On the back is a heart rate sensor.

I’ve had my LG smartwatch for a few months now so I’m no stranger to Google’s Android Wear smartwatch software, so using the Huawei felt intuitive and familiar. With a smartwatch your preaching to the converted and I can’t actually imagine not having one these days. I used the Huawei’s inbuilt alarm to wake me in the morning and track my steps throughout the day.

The Huawei Smartwatch's sporty green watch face. That green circle? That fills up the more active you are.

The Huawei Smartwatch’s sporty green watch face. That green circle? That fills up the more active you are.

 

The screen is fantastic on the Huawei watch: Colours are bright and vivid and everything just looks much clearer than on my LG, even with my ageing eyesight. The display really is superb.

Navigating through the Huawei’s mentions are as you’d expect with an Android smartwatch: You swipe left and right through the screens, up and down to find the app you want and then tap the icon. It’s easy, to be honest.

You can change watch faces either by touching and holding the watch face itself then scrolling left and right to the face you want or through the Android Wear software on your phone. The Huawei had a good selection of watch faces that suit a variety of situations and you can buy new ones for a handful of dollars. My personal favourite watch face was green sporty, which shows your activity during the day through a green circle that progressive moves around the watch face the more steps/activity you do throughout out the day.

The Huawei uses a magnetic docking station (it attaches via some gold contact pins on the underside of the charger) and battery life was what I expect from a piece of wearable tech: I got roughly a day to a day and a half, depending on how many notifications I got throughout the day, before it needed recharging. Charging was quick, too, and I’d usually plonk the watch on the docking station when I was getting ready for work in the morning and it would be close to fully charged by the time I was ready to go.

The underside of the Huawei Smartwatch. The gold pins magnetically clip to the charging port.

The underside of the Huawei Smartwatch. The gold pins magnetically clip to the charging port.

The big question is: Is a smart watch essential? Well, no, it’s not but for me, as I said earlier, I don’t think I could live without one. Wearing one has made my life a whole lot easier and the Huawei looks classy enough to wear everyday.

Wearing a smart watch is part of my daily routine. And since wearing a smart watch, I don’t look at my phone nearly as frequently as I used to: The smart watch lessens the number of times I pull my phone out of my pocket to check that message, that email, that social media comment. If I get a notification (be it email, social media or email), all I do is check my watch and if it’s urgent, I’ll get my phone and reply. If it’s not, I’ll just leave it till I’ve time to answer.

If there was any negative to Huawei’s watch it’s the price: The black stainless steel watch (with matching black leather strap) will set you back around $750, while the gold-plated version is close to $1000, which makes the Huawei considerably more expensive than some other Android smart watches on the market. As a comparison, my LG G Watch R was about $479 when it first came out.

Make no mistake, Huawei’s smart watch is a premium piece of hardware with an absolutely stunning and vivid screen that makes it one of the best Android smart watches around right now, but it’s going to face stiff competition in the coming months as manufacturers bring new hardware to the market, one of those being Samsung and its new Gear S2 [Look out for a review of Samsung’s smart watch soon]

It’s going to be an interesting few months for fans of wearable tech.