Author Archives: Gamejunkienz

D-Link Exo AC3000 Smart Mesh wi-fi router

The first thing my wife said when she saw me lift the D-Link Exo AC3000 (DIR3060) out of its box was: “What the hell is that thing???”. She then pulled a face that made it clear what she thought of its looks.

“It’s a router,” I said. “All those antennae are there to provide a better signal. Anyway, it’s going to be behind the TV so you won’t see it then.”

To be fair, D-Link’s Exo DIR-3060 router does look a bit like some sort of interstellar landing craft with its six antennae but they’re there for a purpose: They boost the wi-fi signal to the devices that are using it.

For most of us, routers are the unsung heroes that sit in the background, doing their job and nobody really notices them until the unforgivable happens: You don’t have any internet access.

A week or so before the D-Link arrived, I contacted my ISP for guidance on just how hard it would be to configure the router to its network because I was, frankly, expecting it to be a nightmare. They reckoned it wouldn’t be too hard. They were right: It was a piece of cake.

After plugging in the router, I connected to D-Link’s online portal, selected my ISP, entered my account username and password and the router did the rest. In a few minutes,  I was connected and up and running. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. As I mentioned earlier, it’s currently behind the TV which is the closest point to where my fibre internet enters the house, and I’ve spread the antennae as much as I can.

The DIR-3060  comes with four Gigabit ethernet ports, two USB ports (2.0 & 3.0), tri-band wi-fi with MU-MIMO, supports voice commands using Google Assist and Amazon Alexa and features a button for easy WPS set up. It also comes with a complimentary five year subscription to McAfee home network security. It also supports up to 400 Mbps (on the 2.4 GHz band) and 866 Mbps & 1733 Mbps (5 GHz). It’s large, though, measuring 221.8mm x 201.4mm x 58.8mm so you’ll need a good sized surface to prop it onto.

D-Link touts that the DIR-3060 has Ookla speed test built in but really it’s just a feature set in the router’s menu system. Using Speed test on my mobile, I tested in the lounge (where the router is located) and got download speeds of 59.8Mbps and upload speeds of 42.9Mbps. In the kitchen, which is probably 25 feet away, I got a download speed of 45.3Mbps & an upload speed of 27.2Mbps (the wired connection to my PC returned a download speed of 847Mbps and an upload speed of 531Mbps.)

I also tested the router by doing a lot of media streaming (mainly Netflix via an Apple TV box and You Tube) over wi-fi and performance on Netflix was butter smooth. We have several devices connected to our network at anyone time: Phones, tablets, computers, streaming boxes, gaming consoles etc and all connected without a hitch.

I didn’t experience any drop outs or connection issues with the D-Link from the moment installed it but I still needed to use the D-Link COVR wi-fi extenders that allow the wi-fi to reach the top end of my house, meaning I have two wi-fi networks. I could, though, buy some D-Link DAP-1820 mesh extenders if I wanted to, which would create a mesh network from the main network.

A QoS (Quality of Service) engine lets you prioritise particular devices that are connected to your network over others (ie streaming boxes ahead of mobile phone). The DIR-3060 also has a strong suite of parental controls and comes with two years free McAfee security software.

At the end of the day, the DIR-3060 does what it says on the tin: It sends the internet to all our devices in my home (four at any one time) and it does it pretty darn well. I’m happy, though: The wi-fi was definitely more reliable than the signal from the router my ISP supplied me with (which has since been relegated to a cupboard in the spare room).

The only people I reckon the DIR-3060 won’t appeal to are those people who still have landlines as the router doesn’t have a port for your phone. I told my wife she should be using Facebook messenger or some other online telephony to call people, anyway.

Look, I was impressed with D-Link’s DIR-3060 router. It’s pricey, though, at almost $500, but it provided a stable, consistent internet with reliable speeds and that’s what I expect from my routers, especially given how much content gets downloaded and streamed at my house.

The Witcher Complete Edition review (Nintendo Switch)

This review was originally published on Koru-Cottage.com, which I also write for.

I’m not really sure what alchemy and magic potions CD Projekt Red & Saber Interactive have evoked to enable one of the finest action RPGs of this generation – The Witcher 3 – to run on Nintendo’s handheld console the Switch but, my God, they’ve done the seemingly impossible and made it happen.

I’m not going to give a history lesson in this review retelling the story of Geralt of Rivea, a genetically enhanced mercenary who is the star of this game series based on the books by Polish author Andrei Sapkowski, suffice to say this game – the third in the series – has Geralt tasked with searching for Ciri, his understudy many moons ago who has returned, along with an oppressive evil called The Wild Hunt that wants to destroy everything in its path.

 

The Witcher, It’s a miracle

The fact that Saber Interactive has even got The Witcher running on what is essentially a tablet chipset is a miracle and what’s even more astounding, though, is isn’t some pared back version of the same game that appeared on PC and consoles: It’s the complete edition (just as it says on the tin), with all the DLC (including the Blood & Wine and Hearts of Stone expansions that were released). Sure, it’s a compromised version of The Witcher but it’s feature complete – and that is a miracle.

Geralt of the RivieraWhen it was rumoured that The Switcher was coming to the Switch I didn’t quite believe it but here we are: It’s real and it’s wonderful.

I’ve played The Witcher games right from the beginning and The Witcher 3 on both PC and PlayStation 4. So I know a thing or two about the series, and yes, Nintendo’s version takes a dramatic hit visually. With environments more washed out and fuzzy than its console and PC counterparts (especially vegetation). At times, when a sunset bathes the game world in golden light or light shafts stream through a forest, it really does look beautiful. Also, from all accounts NPC counts and character models are comparable to other versions. Besides, The Witcher 3 was a demanding game on PC at the best of times if you cranked all the bells and whistles up.

Some advice, though: If this is your first time experiencing The Witcher. I advise you don’t start with the Switch version. If you have access to either console or PC versions, play one of those versions first. That’s the best way to play it. Also, I don’t recommend playing it in docked mode (if you have a Switch Lite you can’t anyway). Why, you ask?

It’s really for on the go

Played in docked mode on my Samsung 40-inch 1080p TV, the visuals are frankly a mess and hurt my eyes. Things are blurry – as if a thin layer of petroleum jelly or such was smeared across the screen [especially ground vegetation which is lifeless and flat] – textures take ages to load in sometimes [detailing on Geralt’s shoulder armour took an insanely long time to sort itself out] and to be honest, it just doesn’t look nice.

It’s clear the Switch version is designed for handheld play first and foremost. The 6-inch screen hides all the imperfections and compromises better. Yes, you still notice flat grass and the like, but portable mode is best for this edition of The Witcher. Play it on the bus, on the train. Heck, play it sitting on the toilet. It doesn’t matter where you play it because handheld mode is where the magic shines best.

The Witcher and Roach on the move How does CD Projekt Red & Saber Interactive get the seemingly impossible game onto a console that is dramatically underpowered when compared to its siblings? By using a dynamic resolution to ensure stable performance, that’s  how. The game will drop as low as 540p in crowded and demanding places, but you know what? You don’t notice it that much in portable mode due to the small screen [at least, I didn’t notice resolution drops but then I have old many eyes]

The game seems to hold a relatively steady 30 frames per second (Digital Foundry has done a great performance analysis on things), although dips are noticeable in crowded areas and some cut scenes where it’s abundantly clear that the Switch is being pushed to its absolute limits to keep things running, and like many games ported over to Switch I still found on-screen text ridiculously hard to read at times – even with my glasses on. It’s also a battery hog. Be warned: During one 2 1/2 hour play session, my Switch’s battery went from 100% to 34%. So have a power bank ready to go if you plan to play for extended periods.

That damn horse again

Any niggles? Of course. One is the game’s automatic pathfinding when you’re riding Roach, your horse. Which I’d hoped they might have fixed in this version. When I set a way point and held down the appropriate button for automatic canter to our destination. He’d lose track of where he was going, forcing me to manually steer him back onto the right path. It’s not a game breaker: It’s just annoying that it’s still here. Another is given the small size of the Switch’s screen [and the default quite dark gamma settings for the game], sometimes enemies are harder to spot, which makes combat challenging at times.

The bottom line here is that yes, The Witcher Complete Edition on Nintendo Switch doesn’t look as good as its console and PC counterparts and purists will recoil in horror at that, but The Switcher is an outstanding port of one of the finest action RPGs of all time that is feature complete and I just can’t put it down [I’ve played for hours and hours over the past week]. It’s just perfect for when my better half is marathoning her soup operas and I need something to occupy me.

I tip my hat to all the talented individuals involved. Who have shown that magic and alchemy can indeed get a game like this running on Nintendo’s system.

Thanks to Stephen at Namco Bandai in Australia for the review code.

Player 2 Charity Marathon: Gaming for a good cause

Here at GamejunkieNZ, we love supporting our fellow gamers when they’re doing good things for the community.

Well, our friends at Australian website Player 2 is holding its fourth Charity Marathon on November 2, supporting the Terry Campese Foundation. The Terry Campese Foundation, a charity started by ex- Australian, NSW and Canberra Raider player Terry Campese, helps those in his home region that are doing it tough. 

Player 2 Editor Matt Hewson has been a strong supporter of this cause for many years, with the last 2 marathons raising $8314 for the foundation. Matt’s passion for this charity has been recognised by Terry and his foundation with Matt becoming an official member of the Foundation’s board in June of this year. 

With Matt now having a say in where the money raised during the P2 Charity Marathon is used, he has chosen something close to Player 2’s heart, video games. Country hospitals in NSW are severely underserviced when it comes to providing entertainment for sick and injured children being treated in their wards. As any parent can tell you, waiting in an emergency bed for results or observations with a sick child can be a painful experience, making things worse for a kid that is already feeling terrible. With that in mind the Marathon is looking to raise $4000, enough to purchase three GAEM Vanguard portable game systems, three gaming consoles and associated accessories and three android tablets for the Queanbyan District Hospital and Braidwood hospital. 

It is Player 2’s belief that making any stay in a hospital for a child and their family easier is a goal worth chasing and that is what they are going to do by playing video games for 24 hours and streaming the entire event on Twitch. Player 2 invites people to donate, win prizes and watch the fun as the Player 2 team tries to make it through all 24 hours without nodding off or going insane. 

Anyone who donates $AU5 or more (one entry per $5) will go in the draw to win prizes donated by Xbox, Turn Left, Namco Bandai, 2K Australia, Koch Media, Ubisoft and more. Thousands of dollars of prizes are up for grabs, the full list of which will be available on Player2.net.au in the lead up to the event. 

From the team at GamejunkieNZ here in New Zealand we say “Good on ‘ya, Matt.”

You can find Player 2’s Twitch channel here and more about the marathon, and how to donate, here.

 

Lonely Mountains Downhill: You, your mountain bike, & nature

Two years ago, I was browsing through Kickstarter and was intrigued by a campaign for an as-yet-unmade mountain biking game called Lonely Mountains: Downhill.

Inspired by videos by riders like Danny MacAskill, German development studio Megagon Industries wanted to create a “mountain biking game in which the mountain is your only opponent and nature your only companion”. Fast forward two years and I can confidently say they have succeeded.

I plonked down 25 Euros ($NZ44) on the campaign, which got me a digital copy of the game, a digital art/behind the scenes book, an exclusive wallpaper and an exclusive poster, my name in the credits and the developers Megagon Industries, based in Berlin, Germany, would plant a virtual tree in the game for me.

My name’s in there as a backer. See if you can spot it? (Hint, second line from the bottom, sixth name from the left).

Megagon Industries was seeking 35,000 Euros and when the Kickstarter ended, they’d secured 45,042 Euros, and reached some stretch goals, too. I was backer number 274.

I think I was attracted to Lonely Mountains because I loved the low poly-aesthetic and I love mountain biking – and this would let me be more reckless that I would ever be on my real mountain bike (I’m too scared of crashing most of the time I go downhill these days).

This was the pitch: “Just you and your bike – take it on a thrilling ride down an unspoiled mountain landscape. Make your way through thick forests, narrow trails and wild rivers. Race, jump, slide and try not to crash – all the way from the peak to the valley!”

Now, 2019, the game is out and I’m loving it. A lot. It was originally slated for a mid-2018 release but development slipped. These things happen, you know. I wasn’t even worried: I actually forgot I’d backed it for a while. It was a surprise when the the Steam key landed in my inbox.

Off the bat, Lonely Mountains looks gorgeous. I love the low-poly asthetic that gives it a real unique look and feel. The environments, too, are just vibrant: Full of life and colour. I mean, look at this shot (I stopped my rider there purposely, so he could look at the waterfall below). Impressive, right?

I’ve said it before but Lonely Mountains really does let me be more adventurous that I would ever be on my real mountain bike. While I’m able to climb hills OK when it comes to the downhills, I tend to ride the brakes more than I should. Lonely Mountains lets me sprint, jump and slide to my heart’s content without any fear of injuring my ageing body.

Talking about injuries, I’ve crashed a lot in Lonely Mountains: a helluva lot. Megagon said we would. Despite smacking into numerous trees and rocks (which puffs of pixelated blood), my little rider dusts himself off – and restarts at the most recent checkpoint.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve already smacked into the tree that Megagon Industries planted for me. Keep an eye out for it, will you? It’ll be the one with lots of pixelated blood on it.

The thing I like about Lonely Mountains is that it rewards persistence.

At first, each new trail – like real mountain bike trails – is an unknown quantity, unfamiliar. You take it cautiously (well, I tend to), braking on every corner, following the suggested path. The more you ride that trail, though, the more confident you become: You notice shortcuts between stands of trees or around a clump of rocks. You notice little things that shave precious seconds off your time and get you to the finish just that little bit faster.

Another thing I like is that the in-game soundtrack is nature itself. It’s refreshing, to be honest, to play a game that doesn’t bombard your ears with an overly loud soundtrack.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m loving Lonely Mountains and am slowly unlocking new challenges and trails. This is one Kickstarter I’m glad I backed.

 

Oppo A9 2020 review

To say I’ve been impressed with Oppo handsets is an understatement.

I’ve reviewed a few Oppo handsets over the past few years: The budget-focused AX7, the more pricey Reno 10x zoom and the R17 Pro and all three have impressed the hell out of me with their mix of smart design and great performance.

This time around, I’m looking at an Oppo at the other end of the scale: The mid-range A9 2020, which retails for around $500, and frankly, it’s a cracker.

Running ColorOS 6.0 (Oppo’s UI software layered over the base Android 9.0 OS), the A9 2020 sports a 6.5-inch OLED screen and is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 665 CPU. A 5000mAh battery will give you a days worth of use before needing a charge, 8Gb of RAM, 128Gb of storage (expandable to 256Gb via MicroSD), and stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos round out the package. Surprisingly, it also allows for a dual SIM setup, handy if you want to combine a work phone and personal phone into one handset.

It also has a four-camera setup: a 48 megapixel main camera, an 8MP ultra-wide lens (119 degrees), a 2MP mono lens and a 2MP portrait lens. More about the camera later, though.

Like the more expensive Reno 10x zoom, the A9 has a nice heft to it and feels weighty in the hand when you pick it up. Despite being a budget phone, a fingerprint scanner just under the three main camera lenses allows for fast unlocking, as does the facial recognition which allows you to unlock the handset just by looking at it.

The A9 2020 sports a 1600×720 resolution screen and is vivid, bright and responsive. Sure it’s not the more common-these-days 1080p resolution, but for my money, on a 6.5-inch smartphone screen, the difference is inperceptible to my old eyes, anyway.

Turn the Oppo over and you’ll notice the array of camera lenses cascading down from the central top of the phone. I used the A9’s camera in a variety of situations.

Here’s a selection of photos taken with the Oppo’s camera.

Outdoor photos seemed natural with clear, crisp images but images captured using the night mode were quite grainy. The A9’s camera’s strength is definitely daylight photos.

Keen to test out the phone’s gaming prowess, I tested it on 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme benchmark (Open GL ES 3.1 & Vulkan APIs), returning scores of 1089 and 1057 (placing it 1% better than Huawai’s Mate 10 Pro).

One feature that Oppo promotes is the Game Boost 2.0 software, which supposedly optimises the phone for when you play games: blocking notifications and phone calls so you get an uninterrupted gaming experience. I tested the A9 2020 with Deus Ex Go, a rather superb mobile game based on SquareEnix’s Deus Ex series, and Gameloft’s Asphalt 9: Legends, a racing game that would push the phone to its limits. I also selected the software’s competitive mode setting (which is said to improve performance and frame rates but will use more power).

In Asphalt 9, the Oppo seemed to perform pretty well and I didn’t notice any perceptible lag. I also tested the A9 202 with the Antutu benchmarking suite which stress tests phone hardware using a variety of tests. The Oppo returned a score of 171,239, telling me the phone “defeated 12% of users” [I wasn’t really sure what that meant, to be honest, as it didn’t provide details of what users it had defeated].

Oppo is a handset manufacturer that continues to astound and impress me with its smartphone offerings and it’s done it again with the A9 2020, a mid-range smart phone that packs high-end features but has a low end price.

If you’re in the market for a good price mid-range phone, you should definitely consider the A9 2020 in the mix.

Digital New Zealand 2020: The state of video games in New Zealand

Last week, the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) released the latest of its Digital New Zealand reports and the findings reveal that two-thirds of New Zealanders play video games and nine out of 10 households own a video game device.

DNZ2020 studied 801 New Zealand households and 2,255 individuals and the research was undertaken by Bond University and shows that New Zealanders enjoy and engage with video games with a consistently positive outcome on their overall health, education and well-being.

The average age of a video game player in New Zealand has remained at 34 years old, the same age found in the DZ18 report released two years ago and around half of those playing video game players are women and girls. Older New Zealanders also continue to be attracted to games, with 42 per cent of those aged 65 and over self-identifying as gamers. In fact, 78 per cent of video game players are over the age of 18.

The study also exposes the perception of the true power of video games and how they affect the lives of New Zealanders.  A large percentage, 87 per cent, says it helps them keep up their general knowledge, 70 per cent say it helps them connect with others and 65 per cent say it improves their overall life satisfaction.

Dr Jeff Brand, Professor at Bond University and lead author of the report since its inception, says the reasons New Zealanders play games continues to broaden from their heritage of recreation and entertainment.

“With more than 10 years of research behind it, Digital New Zealand 2020 (DNZ20) gives us a gold standard into who plays video games, how they play, and why they play. Whereas in the early years, this longitudinal research helped overturn stereotypes of the average gamer, in recent years we have started to understand the deeper reasons why people play.”

“While fun is still first and foremost for New Zealand gamers, it is by no means the only reason. We found a diversity to how New Zealanders use games – from education and upskilling, to preserve social and emotional connections and as a powerful health and wellness tool in staying fit and reducing stress.”

The Digital New Zealand study also highlights how videos games are making an impact on New Zealand’s cultural footprint in the global technology ecosystem and the digital economy, with video game sales in New Zealand growing at a rate of 15% CAGR between 2013 and 2018. The latest report shows that 72% of adults believe making video games in New Zealand benefits the economy.

When it comes to training a workforce, video games are a very useful tool and 29 per cent have used video games to train workers with new skills. Interestingly, this year we saw New Zealanders of working age taking the lead in average time spent engaged with video games, with typical working age adults spending 90 minutes playing per day on average compared to the national average of all ages being 88 minutes per day.

Furthermore, the report shows the importance of video games on developing critical thinking skills. In fact, 65 per cent of parents see video games as a valuable teaching tool for STEM.

“We need to harness games as a powerful tool in building a strong and competitive future for New Zealand. The inherent problem-solving nature of interactive game play hones critical thinking and strategy skills,” said Dr Brand. “These skills can easily be applied in a professional environment, and in fact we found that New Zealanders of working age were more likely to spend longer on average playing games than those under 18 years of age.”

Ron Curry, CEO of IGEA, said, “Digital New Zealand 2020 showcases how important video games are for New Zealanders. Far from the stereotype of being a solitary pursuit, in fact we found that video games continue to facilitate a shared experience for families, friends and co-workers. Video games are a key influence on all aspects of society – at home, in the workplace, and in schools. The reasons New Zealanders are playing is becoming more nuanced – it’s not just for entertainment but also to learn and connect.”

Other key findings of the Digital New Zealand Report 2020 include:

  • New Zealand households mostly use PCs to play video games – The most popular way to play games is with a PC (72 per cent), while 65 per cent of households use a smart phone to play, and 19 per cent of households own a virtual reality headset.
  • The average New Zealander’s consumption of games has increased – The average total daily video game consumption is 88 minutes, up from 85 minutes in 2018. Breaking this down by demographic – working age adults play for the longest, averaging 90 minutes a day, whereas retirement age adults play for 79 minutes. Children sit in the middle, playing video games for an average of 84 minutes a day.
  • Video games play a vital role in ageing positively – Older New Zealanders cite the role video games play in positive ageing, with the main uses cited as being to keep the mind active, have fun and be challenged.
  • Video games play a critical role in connecting parents with their children – Parents increasingly place importance on the impact video games have on forging a connection with their children. The research shows that 42 per cent of parents play games with their children in the same room, and 33 per cent play online games with their children.
  • Parents are still cautious when it comes to ensuring safety online – 84 per cent indicate they have talked with their children about playing games safely online, with 91 per cent of parents aware of parental controls, up from 88 per cent in 2018.
  • Video games continue to educate – Games continue to play an important role in a teaching and training setting. Sixty per cent of the parents surveyed said that their children use video games for educational purposes in school and 48 per cent believe that games can imbue their children with greater confidence at school.

I also spoke to Dr Brand last week about some of his findings and I’ll post that interview once I’ve got a spare moment to write it up.

Win with Gamejunkie & PriceSpy

 

If PriceSpy’s latest data insights are anything to go by, Kiwi gamers appear to be steering more towards driving games, with CTR Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fueled Edition (PS4) and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) proving to be amongst the most popular games for the month of July.

Accelerating to poll-position for a second month running is CTR Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fueled Edition (PS4), followed by Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4), which despite receiving an overall price increase of $17 since last month, the game has consistently been well-placed since first launching in September last year.  Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch) and Days Gone (PS4) placed as third, fourth and fifth most popular games.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says “The most popular games for July certainly appear to be driven by the two racing games, CTR Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fueled Edition and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

“Interestingly, all five of the most popular games were also priced under the $100 mark, which goes to show just how important price is to consumers in driving overall interest in a game,” she says.

WIN WIN WIN

PriceSpy has teamed up with GamejunkieNZ to give away the top two most searched for games for the month of July, CTR Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fueled Edition (ps4) and Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4).

To enter the draw to win these two games, leave a comment on this post telling me what your most anticipated game is. The competition closes September 4.

Competition rules: 1) The competition is only open to NZ residents 2) You must comment on this post to enter the draw 3) The prize is two (2) games for the PlayStation 4: Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fueled Edition & Marvel’s Spider-Man. 4) A PlayStation 4 is not included in the prize. You must already own the console 5) The winner will be contacted by email.

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