XONZ 2015 in pictures: A mini, mini E3, of sorts

Last Thursday, I was kindly flown to Auckland (a city in New Zealand in the North Island) by Xbox NZ to check out XONZ, an Xbox One-dedicated showcase of upcoming games and some hardware for the Xbox One console.

The event was open to invitees today but I attended the media day on Thursday.

While there weren’t a huge number of games on display, it was a nice, intimate event where I got to show how badly I suck at Halo MP (there were a couple of rounds of one of Halo 5 Guardian’s 24-player MP modes), I got to play through a level of the soon-to-be released Rise of the Tomb Raider, ate some popcorn chicken and some Mac ‘n cheese balls and then chat with Chris Bishop (Forza 6), Kevin Franklin (Halo 5 MP) and Mike Brinker (Crystal Dynamics/Rise of the Tomb Raider).

My interviews will be up when I’ve transcribed my interviews (I’m still yet to decide whether I just publish the audio of the interviews as is, with all the noise and stuff, or transcribe them and write a story from each one. If you have a preference, let me know in the comments)

I thought, though, to tide you over until I get the interviews posted/written up, I’d post some photos I took from the event. Caveat: The photos were taken with my smartphone (an HTC One M8) and it the venue was mood-lit (translation: It was dark with lots of Xbox green) so they’re not that great but I hope they capture the event nicely.

Disclaimer: A big thanks to Xbox NZ, which flew me from Christchurch to Auckland to attend the event. I paid for my bus fare from the Airport to the city and back again, though.  I was too cheap to pay for a taxi to get me there. 

Sharp looking: The hands belong to Xbox NZ chief Steve Blackburn and he's holding the new Elite controller. It's highly customisable and in high demand, even before it's launched.

Sharp looking: The hands belong to Xbox NZ chief Steve Blackburn and he’s holding the new Elite controller. It’s highly customisable and in high demand, even before it’s launched.

Lego Dimensions

Lego Dimensions

Vault Boy: This fine chap was guarding a presentation from Bethsda for Fallout 4.

Vault Boy: This fine chap was guarding a presentation from Bethsda for Fallout 4.

Bird's eye view: The main area at XONZ was where the Halo 5 Guardian's MP matches took place.

Bird’s eye view: The main area at XONZ was where the Halo 5 Guardian’s MP matches took place.

XONZ: Bathed in Xbox green, XONZ showcased upcoming Xbox One games.

XONZ: Bathed in Xbox green, XONZ showcased upcoming Xbox One games.

Grapple, grapple, grapple in the latest Tomb Raider trailer

 

Lara Croft’s grapple hook gets a work out in the latest trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Xbox One-bound game that’s due to hit gamers’ wallets on November 10.

Titled Descent Into Legend, the trailer  sees Lara exploring ancient tombs filled with traps and puzzles, and battles the harsh elements and landscapes in her search for the Lost City of Kitezh.

Speaking of Rise of the Tomb Raider, I’m heading to the media day for XONZ, an Xbox One showcase and will be speaking to Mike Brinker, whose lead designer on Rise of the Tomb Raider. Any burning questions you’d like me ask?

Tearaway Unfolded video review

 

OK, after much faffing about, I’ve managed to get my headset mic [if you’re interested, I’m using Turtle Beach’s PX22 headset} working so that it’ll record external audio so here is my first video review of PS4-exclusive, Tearaway Unfolded, from developer Media Molecule [the makers of Little Big Planet].

Apart from some notes, the narration was pretty much off the cuff so apologies if I “um” & “ah”a little too much or  it’s lacking in detailed content. It’s not perfect, and I’m  not sure if my voice really suits video, but hopefully it sounds OK.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

 

Metal Gear Solid V just went all cute on me & update: I’m liking it [may contain spoilers]

Note: If you’re playing it and haven’t got far, this could spoil a really nice moment for you. You’ve been warned

A few days ago I wondered whether I’d made a mistake buying MGSV: The Phantom Pain.

Well, after a few more hours, I can report I’m actually starting to dig it. It’s really throwing up some neat little touches that I’m liking [I really like the shower on Mother Base so I can wash off all the enemy blood from Snake. Thumbs up, Mr Kojima]

I think the turning point was a mindset change. I started playing it more Splinter Cell and less Gears of War [insert any other shooter name here, if you like]. I started thinking  tactically, rather than go in guns blazing [although during one early mission I was doing incredibly well, being stealthy, until a guard spotted me carrying an unconscious buddy – then all hell broke loose]

Then this happened during the opening moments of, I think, the third mission:

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Up, up & away: Yes, that’s Snake fultoning a puppy back to Mother Base.

So, I completed the mission, returned to Mother Base to wash off the blood, not really giving the puppy a second thought, then this happened as I stepped from the helicopter.

Oh, Mr Kojima, you know how to generate the “Awws” from me. Nice work.

 

 

News roundup Thursday

I know I said I didn’t usually do news, and I don’t want to be one of those gaming sites that regurgitates the same news as every other site, but, hey, it’s Friday (at least it is here in good ‘ole New Zealand) Thursday, I’ve got a three-day weekend starting from tomorrow, so here’s some stuff that’s landed in my inbox over the past 24 hours.

Uncharted Moments

With the Nathan Drake Collection due to drop on PlayStation 4 on October 7 (three days before my birthday), Sony has released a video that is said to contain developer Naughty Dog’s favourite moments from the series.

The 11 minute, 14 second video has some nice moments that should whet the appetites of gamers waiting for the remastered Nathan Drake Collection.

According to Sony, there will be a demo of the Warzone chapter of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves up on the PlayStation Store from September 29.

Sony’s VR headset given a name

sony-virtual-reality-headset-playstationSticking with PlayStation, at its Tokyo Game Show presser earlier this week, Sony announced that PlayStationVR was now the official name for its virtual reality headset.

The VR headset will have a 5.7-inch OLED panel pumping the pixels out at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (960 x 1080 per eye) but no release date has been mentioned.

Keen to go VR with Sony? Let me know in the comments section.

Let’s Play … Tearaway Unfolded (PS4, no commentary)

The title says it all, really.

Here’s part two of my playthrough of Media Molecule’s PS4-exclusive Tearaway Unfolded. Sadly, again, there’s no audio commentary as I’m still having trouble recording external audio.

I’ll get it sorted. I promise. In the meantime, enjoy the video.

Metal Gear Solid V: Did I make a mistake buying this game?

MGS5Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the game of the moment, it seems, getting rave reviews from critics and fans of the series alike, but here’s a confession: In the two hours or so I’ve played it of it, I can’t get into it, and I’m actually starting to regret buying it. I kind of wish I’d bought Avalanche’s Mad Max instead.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a strong history of playing the MGS series that is taking over here. The only MGS game I’ve played was MGSIV, and I didn’t like that much either. The Phantom Pain just isn’t capturing my attention. I don’t think about it every waking moment. In fact, I’ve played Tearaway Unfolded, a PS4-exclusive, than MGSV: The Phantom Pain.

I don’t know why the game’s not impacting on me. Maybe I was swept away with the hype surrounding the game, convincing me to buy it and be Big Boss. Maybe I was captivated game play I’d seen that made it look really, really great and I just had to have it. I don’t know what it is but at the moment, I almost have to force myself to play it, to justify the money that I paid for it.

I’ve heard that the first two to three hours will be make or break as to whether you’ll like it – is that right? – so maybe I have to grit my teeth and persevere until I get access to Mother Base and the ability to fulton things. I guess in a game that can give you 40+ hours of game play it’s going to have a slow start, right?

The first hour was totally confusing (Hideo Kojima has a wild imagination, that’s for sure), and to be honest, half the time I had no idea what was going on (I’ve just come across some zombie-like soldiers called the Skulls – this is also confusing the hell out of me). When I’d finished the prologue I was still none the wiser as to what had just happened.

So, have I made the right decision with MGSV and should I stick with it? Will it get better?  Or do I cut my losses, try and sell it and pick up something like Mad Max? I’ve also got Tearaway Unfolded, Forza 6 and Until Dawn to play.

I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.

*I’m going to continue playing MGSV and see whether I get hooked. I’ll keep you posted!

The changing face of the New Zealand video game player

 

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Take a look at the graphic. It shows the changing face of the New Zealand interactive entertainment landscape. As a longtime video game player and champion of the medium, I’m liking what I’m seeing.

DNZ16 is the fourth report from the Australian IGEA and Bond University’s Professor Jeffery Brand and Stewart Todhunter on the influence of interactive entertainment in New Zealand, and it shows, among other things, that the face of the New Zealand video game player is changing.

Here is the foreword to the report and I think it sums everything up nicely.

We are witnessing breathtaking changes in the realm of digital interactive entertainment. It is hard to imagine that 15 years ago, we were debating the worth, even potential harms, of simple video games.

Today attention is on the potential of this amazing medium to reinvigorate education, workplace training, consumer engagement and social and political conversation. Interactive entertainment is celebrated for its economic importance. There have been many voices in the call to treat games as a serious medium for the knowledge age.

The three IGEA-Bond University reports preceding this one have contributed to the chorus of voices. These national New Zealand studies of computer game audiences have broken down stereotypes that prevented understanding in the wider community that computer games were not only a popular medium, but a productive medium.

You can download a full copy of the DNZ16 report here and I suggest you read through it as it makes for a really interesting insight, but because I’m a nice guy here are the key findings in an easy to digest graphical format. You’re welcome.

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According to DNZ16, 70% of those that took part believed that video games can improve thinking, 47% believed video games could help fight dementia and 28% of respondents who were aged over 50 played video games to keep their mind active.  Food for thought, right?

It comes as no surprise that the average of a video game player is 34 [I’m much, much older than that. Interestingly, in my demographic: the, ahem, 45 to 54 age bracket, 54% play games], 48% of video game players are women and 13 years is the average years respondents have been playing video games.

DNZ16 found that 88 minutes was the average play time for people [I struggle to get in an hour a day sometimes due to work and other commitments] and 98% of homes with children have some form of video games in them.

The full report itself has much more information for you to digest but I’d be really interested to know why you play video games [interactive entertainment], no matter whether it’s console, PC or mobile, what you think of the findings and where you fit into the interactive entertainment demographic.

 

Let’s Play … Tearaway Unfolded [PS4]

OK, I thought I’d do another Let’s Play video, this time for Media Molecule’s PS4-exclusive Tearaway Unfolded, a sort-of remake for the game Tearaway which appeared on the PSVita [a handheld console that seems, regrettably, overlooked by Sony much of the time].

The PSVita game was just delightful and used the strengths of the handheld beautifully. I’m intrigued to see how Unfolded makes the most of the PS4’s abilities. There’s no commentary on this one as I’m having trouble with recording audio so this just has in-game audio.

Enjoy. If you want to see more, Like it and let me know in the comments.

Fly 6 review: Eyes at the back of your head

Fly6 integrated rear bicycle tail light with built-in HD camera

I guess you could think of Cycliq’s Fly6 integrated tail light and HD camera as eyes at the back of your head as you ride your bike. Or an insurance policy that you’ll hopefully never need.

Funded through a Kickstarter campaign by Australian cyclists and tinkerers Andrew Hagan and Kingsley Fiegert, the Fly6 is one of those gadgets that you hope you’ll never need to rely on but are rest assured that it’s there just in case something goes wrong.

In fact, Fiegert came up with the original idea of the Fly6 after he was hit in the arse by a slingshot projectile while he was out riding his bike. Ouch!!

I was lucky enough to win my Fly6 through a Tour de France competition that Cycliq was running during the three-weeks of the cycle event. I’m not usually a winner when it comes to competitions so I was chuffed that I’d won this.

Eyes open: The Fly6 is bulker than a standard rear flashing bike light but that's because it has an HD camera inside [and a rechargeable lithium ion battery]

Eyes open: The Fly6 is bulkier than a standard rear flashing bike light but that’s because it has an HD camera inside [and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery]

Compared to most rear bicycle tail lights, the Fly6 is bulky, but that’s because this one incorporates an HD camera into the mix [it’s the large round lens underneath the Fly6 logo]. Outputting at up to 30 lumens, the tail light is bright enough to be seen by motorists [it has two flashing modes and one solid mode thanks to the three lights] and the camera records video at 720p [1380 x 720 resolution]. Cycliq says the internal 2600mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery will give up to six hours recording and lighting time, depending on use.

Filming you: The large lens is the HD camera. The flashing strobe unit is visible underneath.

Filming you: The large lens is the HD camera. The flashing strobe unit, which illuminates to indicate that the camera is recording, is visible underneath.

The gadget comes with an 8Gb microSD class 10 memory card already installed so everything you need is in the box to get started. The unit is charged via a supplied microUSB cable and will emit a variety of beeps when  you turn it on to indicate the battery charge status. Cycliq says if the battery drops under 5% capacity while you’re using it, three long beeps will sound, the audio and video capture function will switch off but the light will continue to work for about 1 1/2 hours.

Installation

Good to go: The Fly6 fitted to my road bike's seat post.

Good to go: The Fly6 fitted to my road bike’s seat post.

Fitting the Fly6 to my road bike was incredibly simple: I slid the camera/light unit onto the right sized seat post mount [the box comes with two] then secured it to the seat post using two of the supplied rubber straps. It took maybe a couple of minutes to get it fitted. The box also comes with some spacers to ensure a more snug fit on your bike’s seat post, an SD card adapter and a microUSB cable to attach the unit to your computer to upload captured video, which can then be viewed using program VLC Media Player.

Testing

I’ve probably had the Fly6 for about three weeks and have used it extensively when I’ve gone for bike rides, generally during the day so I can’t say how bright it is during darkness hours. The video below shows how bright it is.

It’s a funny but as a bike rider,  you never really think about what is happening behind you when you’re riding your bike, unless you look behind to see whether it’s safe to make a turn or whether there’s room for you to avoid a parked car. If the Fly6 has done one thing, it’s made me more aware of what’s actually happening behind me and shown me just how close vehicles sometimes get to cyclists.

I like to think I’m a considerate cyclist: I stay to the inside of the white line as much as practicable and where applicable [sometimes, of course, you have to move across the line for parked cars, road works, potholes in the road] but I’m still amazed at how close some motorists get to me as they drive past.

Watching captured video when I get home is generally uneventful – and that’s how I’d like it to stay. That’s why I said at the beginning that the Fly6 is like an insurance policy that you never want to use: It’s there, covering your back, just in case you need it, but for most of the time [hopefully] the footage it captures is uneventful [apart from seeing the odd motorist behind me talking on a mobile phone, which is illegal in this country].

 

Verdict

While a rear facing HD camera isn’t a necessity for a cyclist, the Fly6 is a nice thing to have in this age where motorists seem to be a more and more aggressive to cyclists, especially lycra-clad cyclists.

The capture quality is good enough to pick out number plates if you need to, and the device records in 10 minute blocks, so if you go for, say,  an hour bike ride, you’ll have six recorded segments. I tended to watch through the footage, see whether anything was worth keeping,  then delete it from the camera.

As I said in the beginning, the Fly6 is a set of eyes watching your back as you cycle and is essentially an insurance policy just in case an incident happens, and you need evidence to back you up – and that’s reassuring. It could be seen by some as pricey for a light, though: With postage, the Fly6 will set you back $214, but for serious cyclists who don’t bat an eyelid at $1000 wheels & bikes that cost thousands of dollars, it’s a small price for peace of mind.

*Cycliq is also in the prototype stages of a front-facing camera/light called the Fly12 which will have a 400 lumens front-facing light, a 1080p camera, Wifi capabilities and a smartphone. I’m following its progress with interest.