About Gerard Campbell

Video game blogger, cyclist, coffee drinker, father, husband.

Cloudpunk: Blade Runner meets The Fifth Element

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I’ve just finished Ionland’s Blade Runner-inspired game Cloudpunk, where you play a new delivery driver in a neon-lit, rain-soaked city populated by humans and androids –  and colour me impressed.

I’ll write a review soon, when I’ve got my thoughts in order, but this post is really just to give you an insight into the absolutely stunning visuals of Cloudpunk, a game that really does look like the love child of the iconic movie Blade Runner (and, conversely, Westworld’s Blade Runner game) – with its neon-punctuated environments – and Luc Besson’s utterly brilliant movie The Fifth Element, where chaotic hover cars ply the congested skies as citizens move from point A to point B.

During my 16-hour play through of Cloudpunk, I just couldn’t help myself and stop to take screen shots and videos every few minutes, just to capture how gorgeous the game world is. I loved the game’s narrative and its storytelling (although it’s not perfect).

So until my review drops, soak in the visual splendor of the neon-dripping world of Cloudpunk.

 

Games a popular search prior to lockdown, according to Pricespy

As we enter another week of Level 4 lock down, price aggregation site Pricespy has been in touch, telling me that it found quite a few New Zealanders searched for new games to keep themselves entertained before we went into lock down.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says:  “In March alone, the number of clicks received across the entire shopping category of ‘games and consoles’ skyrocketed, increasing by almost a third (+30 per cent), which is extremely high.

“Interestingly, the number of clicks received started to rise from the 18th March before peaking on the 24th, ahead of the national stage four lock down that started on the 26th.”

In terms of the most popular games people were clicking on, the data also found between the 18th and 26th March, the most popular games based on historical click data from PriceSpy that people searched for were:

  • Animal Crossing New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)
  • Fifa 20 (PlayStation 4)
  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare (PS4)
  • The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild (Switch)
  • NBA 2K20 (PS4)

Matinvesi-Bassett says looking at the historical pricing data across the top five most clicked-on games, even though the country is still on a stage four national lock down, 80 per cent of the games were found to have spiked on the 31st March compared to the 24th March.

So, did you pick up any games before lock down? If so, what did you get & if not, what are you playing through the lock down?

 

Hp Spectre x360 review: A sleek 2-in-1 package

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HP’s Spectre x360 is a sleek, high-end 2-in-1 device.

As soon as I took HP’s Spectre x360 hybrid out of the box, it was the little touches that impressed me.

The braided power cable that looks high-end and the premium look and feel all screamed high-end hardware, and HP’s x360 is just that: It’s a premium piece of kit at a premium price – but you do get two devices for the price of one, though.

In standard configuration, the device is a standard laptop but flip the screen back and stand it on a benchtop like a tent and it’s a touch-screen tablet, complete with a stylus that is incredibly sensitive and accurate [Funny story: I thought I’d “misplaced” the stylus for about a week after my wife thought it was a marker pen & put it away with the other markers].

I do have to confess, though, it took me a while to find the power button as it’s not in the traditional place I was looking. It’s not on above the function keys on the right hand side It’s in the left corner, tucked out of sight. While uncertain about its placement at first, I’m now a convert of where the power connector is as it means it’s out of the way and you won’t knock it easily.

Running an Intel Core i7 10th generation CPU (1.3Ghz), 16Gb of memory, 512Gb M.2 drive for storage, 64-bit Windows 10, and an Intel Iris Plus integrated GPU, the x360 has enough grunt to do most things. Thanks to a fast fingerprint scanner [as well as facial recognition: How did they get a camera into the incredibly think bezel this thing has?], the x360 unlocks amazingly fast and boots up from cold start to desktop in a matter of seconds [around 6 seconds].

The x360s screen does reflect quite a bit off its surface so you’ll have to take care in well-lit rooms.

The 13.3-inch AMOLED panel (1920 x 1080 resolution with a 60hz refresh rate) is clear and vivid, although it reflects a lot of glare when used in direct sunlight or in sunny rooms so it’s not really one for sitting on the deck during a warm summer afternoon.

Weighing in at  reasonable 1.2kg, the x360 comes with an old-school USB 2.0 connection on the left-hand edge (which is good for my wireless mouse dongle) and another USB-c connection on the right-hand side. There’s also a micro-SD port and an audio jack. A nice touch is the physical switch to deactivate the in-built camera, a nice feature if you’re super cautious about online safety.

I usually struggle with many laptop keyboards but I found the x360’s keyboard comfortable to work with, with nice travel in the keys. I set myself the challenge of using it as my primary device [excluding my work laptop] for a couple of weeks, and for the most part I succeeded.

I still game on my more powerful desktop PC, but I wrote this review on the x360,  I watched YouTube videos and Netflix on the x360, I followed recipes during lock down baking with the x360. It was my go-to device for the past couple of weeks.

The keys on the x360 have nice travel to them and you can just make out the physical switch (next to the microSD port) that lets you disable the camera.

While not a dedicated gaming machine [I understand there is a version that comes equipped with an nVidia GTX1060 GPU], I wanted to test out the x360’s gaming chops and while it managed to play games like Lonely Mountains Downhill, Blade Runner (the GOG version), Tomb Raider, Dishonoured and Two Point Hospital at playable frame rates, it struggled with a game like Forza Horizon 4, though, giving me an unsupported video card warning.

If you’re a gamer, I wouldn’t recommend trading in your current gaming rig for the x360, especially if you’re keen on Doom Eternal or the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

I was impressed with the x360’s battery life, lasting much longer than I expected before needing a recharge: I got, on average, a couple of days moderate use before needing to plug into a wall socket.

The only issue I had, hardware-wise, was the panel flickered quite severely when I was watching streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. It flashed so badly that it even looked like the panel itself was dying. Fearing it was a major problem, a quick search using Dr Google suggested a graphics driver update then heading into the graphics control panel and disabling panel self-refresh would sort the problem. It did, thankfully.

Starting at $3159 (depending on the GPU configuration), HP’s Spectre x360 is reasonably priced considering pricing of equivalently spec’d laptops such as Dell’s XPS 13 ($3299).

For me, the Spectre x360 is one of the best HP laptop’s I’ve used and it’s a powerful 2-in-1 that should be able to do everything you throw at it, apart from serious gaming, mind you.

Thanks to HP in New Zealand for providing the review unit.

Control: A trip down the slightly unnerving

Control has a pretty good photo mode, too.

I don’t tend to get on with games that touch upon supernatural themes so maybe that’s why I’ve only just picked up Remedy’s Control now, several months after it came out and many awards later.

My reason for picking it up now was initially purely financial: It was on sale on PSN a couple of weeks before Easter for $NZ41 so I thought “For that price, why the feck not?” I mean, I’d heard good things about it and if I hated it, I’d only dropped $40.  The game had also been recommended to me by gamer friends.

Now, I’m only about a handful of hours in, but as I made my way deeper and deeper through the Oldest House, uncovering the secrets of the Federal Bureau of Control, I realised I wasn’t quite prepared for the overarching feeling of unease I felt as I played the game.

I don’t mean unease in the sense that the subject matter was difficult to stomach, but in the sense that at lot of what was going on around me was, to be honest, just unnerving (for those of you who have played it, when communications director Tomassi first turned up I just uttered a stunned: “What the fuck is that?”).

Unnerving in the sense that I was never quite sure what was waiting for me around the next corner, friendly or not, as I gingerly wandered through corridors with warped architecture and rooms with people floating just below the ceiling.

Control is a whole lot of unnerving – and this is from someone who has played the Alan Wake games that just freaked the fuck out of me.

Now, I wouldn’t call Control a horror game like, say, Resident Evil where gruesome horror is to the fore. I’ve played the Alan Wake games and they freaked me out due to the sheer horror element but Alan Wake’s horror theme was to the fore: With control there’s an underlying supernatural theme with just bat shit crazy stuff happening all around you.

Game play is where Control shines, although it slowly introduces abilities through a mechanic called Objects of Power, relics that when controlled offer supremely useful abilities that turn the tide in the player’s favour. Telekinesis, or launch, is one such ability.

Telekinesis, for example, lets you pick up objects from the game world and launch them at foes, especially useful for larger enemies that have shields that need to be broken [it’s a similar principal that Remedy used in Alan Wake where Alan had to break the shield of ghostly entities using his flashlight first].

Let’s talk about the ability to launch just about anything at foes for a minute. It is a supremely strong ability and it is made all the better thanks to the game [almost completely] destructible environments which lets you pick up anything you can lay your hands on: Think chairs, think benches, think lamps, think masonry, think books, anything. Think of the game world as ammunition against the evil lurking in the Oldest House.

Movement is also a key to success in Control’s combat and at first, I played things safe, too safe, frequently standing on the spot as I fired upon advancing enemies. As a consequence I died a few times until I realised that, indeed, movement is the key to success here [There’s even a tip on a loading screen that says as much].

That said, I feel that so far Control’s gun play is actually weaker than the abilities side, especially given how powerful the telekinesis/launch power is. The guns you get are neat but I just felt that perhaps the weapon side was overshadowed dramatically by the powers/abilities.

I’ve always been a fan of Remedy’s games [Quantum Break was, probably, my least favourite] and Control is another one that has its claws dug deep into me and is my go-to game while we’re in lock down here [another week or so to go, at time of writing].

I’m sure the story is going to get freakier as I delve deeper into the Oldest House and uncover its secrets but so far, it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a long, long time.

Oppo has big plans for 2020

Note: Responses to my questions from Oppo’s New Zealand managing director Morgan Halim were prepared by Oppo prior to the Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand but this is the first chance I’ve had to post them to the site. Also, this is the first post in a month: I’m so sorry about that. I will do better.

For many smartphone buyers, Oppo isn’t as well-known as Samsung, Apple and Huawei, but there is much to like about the Chinese manufacturer who started out as a high-end audio equipment maker before delving into smartphones. I caught up with Oppo New Zealand managing director Morgan Halim late last month for a chat about what the future holds for Oppo.

Morgan, a lot of consumers in New Zealand probably haven’t heard of Oppo, instead opting for brands like Apple and Samsung. Has it been hard for Oppo to break into a market dominated by the others. What have been the biggest challenges for Oppo in NZ?

Certainly, as a relatively new brand, entering our fourth year in New Zealand, we’re still gaining our momentum and share of voice, and we’re up against competitors that have a much longer relationship with Kiwis.

Brand awareness and shifting into the consideration set is definitely one of the biggest challenges we face. But it’s also a grand opportunity – as a challenger brand with a challenger mindset, we’re here to defy the norms and give Kiwis something they might not’ve found in their smartphone provider until now.

Oppo was recently named as a Consumer Top Brand (in the mobile phone category). What does that mean for the company?

This award calls out Oppo smartphones as the cream of the crop in their category. We’re over the moon to receive this award, knowing the rigorous testing that goes into it. We also know that Consumer NZ’s Top Brand Award isn’t dished out easily and there’s not a winner every year, so it’s very humbling as a newer player to come out on top.

How we’ve achieved this is through our focus on the customer – the customer experience is at the centre of everything we do. We’re the only smartphone brand to have a local repairs centre based in NZ and this helps us keep our approach local and personal with customers – there’s no big hoops to jump through – if you’re having issues with your phone, you can bring it into our centre and we’ll take a look at it.

The Consumer Top Brand testing found 82.9% of Oppo customers are “very satisfied” with their mobile phone, significantly more than the average – that’s pretty big kudos from our customers and cements exactly what we’re here to do.

Oppo’s Enco Q1 noise cancelling headphones.

Oppo used to be a high-end audio equipment manufacturer so how has the company brought that experience into the mobile phone market?

Oppo’s global heritage and expertise lies in pioneering audio technology, and this expertise has evolved over time as the company continues to innovate and explore new technologies.

Audio is an essential component to every smartphone, so it’s fitting that we’re now combining some of the best quality audio features in our smartphones, as well as in other smart products. True to its audio heritage, Oppo has recently launched two wireless earphone models in New Zealand, the Enco Q1 noise cancelling headphones and the Enco Free wireless earphones.

If someone said to you “I’m looking at buying a new smartphone and I’ve seen this brand called Oppo. Do you know anything about them?”, how would you sell Oppo to that person?

Oppo has made waves around the world with its unique product offering: aesthetically-pleasing designs, innovative technology and a vision to create premium products without the price tag.

In New Zealand, Oppo is a top mobile phone brand with awards and reviews to boot. Based locally, we also have the lowest return rate for repairs of any smartphone brand in NZ, so you can count on a quality and long-lasting product and is gaining traction amongst Kiwis both young and old.

The smartphone market is incredibly competitive so what innovation is Oppo bringing to entice customers?

We continue to charge forward, innovating and pioneering across a number of consumer electronic categories as well as being at the forefront of 5G. We continue to develop our new technologies, such as the safest and fastest charging technology available in the world today, our lightning speed VOOC charging technology.

In NZ, we’re focused on bringing Kiwis premium products and services that lead with the customer in mind. We continue to push these bounds through our customer service, whereby last year we brought our own after-sales service in-house to our Auckland office to ensure we maintain the quality and personal customer service Kiwis deserve. Not to mention we have some of the lowest return rates in the industry and our central repairs team is typically turning around repairs for customers within the same day.

What’s the plan for OPPO moving forward in New Zealand? What’s the big thing for the coming year?

2020 is set to be the biggest year yet for OPPO in NZ as we continue our mission to bring some of the best technology to New Zealanders.

We’re venturing further to make our mark, starting with the launch of our first-ever 5G smartphones, including the top-end Find X2 Pro, and the highly-anticipated OPPO smart watch, a little later this year. With the groundwork we’ve built and with what we have in store for 2020, I’m confident we’re in a strong position to smash some big milestones and keep shaking up the industry.

Pokemon pips Jedi Knight for top spot in January game sales in NZ

It seems a Nintendo Switch game has pipped the PlayStation for top game in New Zealand for January, 2020, with Pokemon Sword pipping EA’s SW Jedi Fallen Order for the top spot last month.

Rounding out the top five were COD: Modern Warfare, NBA 2K20 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – GOTY Edition (all on PS4).

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Based on our historical click data, even though four out of the five most popular games for January were found to be from PlayStation, the overall most popular game was Pokemon Sword for Nintendo Switch.

Pokemon Sword launched in November 2019 with an RRP of $99.  Normally, after two to three months after a game has launched, we would expect to see it drop significantly in price, so help it appear more competitively priced against other new releases and to encourage further sales to occur.

“However, according to our historical pricing insights, despite Pokemon Sword being almost three months old in January, the price point remained fairly static, dropping just 12 per cent compared to the RRP price at launch.

“The same cannot be said for the other top four games from PlayStation.  For example, even though Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launched around the same time as Pokemon Sword, our historical pricing data in January revealed it dropped in price by almost 40 per cent (39 per cent) compared to its RRP at launch.

“Similarly the third most popular game in, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, also offered gamers a rather attractive 39 per cent off its original RRP in January.”

“Based on these findings, consumer demand for Pokemon Sword still remains to be fairly high, without the need for Nintendo to discount the product to entice consumers back in.  PlayStation on the other hand seem to be using a different tactic, offering gamers the opportunity to pick up a relatively new game at a bargain price a few months after release,” says Matinvesi-Bassett.

NZ video game development industry on the up and up

Looks like things are on the up and up for the New Zealand video games development industry, with the sector earning $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017.

The figures come from the annual NZ Game Developers Industry Survey conducted by independent researcher Tim Thorpe and is for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. It canvassed 39 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and edTech companies. The 10 largest studios earned 93% of the industry revenue, employed 77% of the workforce and are now 10 years old on average.

New Zealand Game Developers Association Chairperson Cassandra Gray says the results are the “fruits of the last generation of New Zealand interactive studios’ hard work”.

“Our opportunity is to support the next generation of creative tech companies to join them,” she says.

Fifty nine per cent of studios expect significant growth (greater than 10%) in the coming year. In the last year, eight New Zealand-made apps debuted the new Apple Arcade service, NinjaKiwi’s Bloons TD6 topped Apple’s paid games charts, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile was one of the top ten played PC games in the world, RocketWerkz opened a second studio in Auckland, and Valleys Between by Little Lost Fox won the Best Feel Good Game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The companies involved in the survey employ 683 creative and hi-tech workers, an increase of 133 new jobs this year. A Creative NZ and NZ On Air study, A Profile of Creative Professionals 2019, found that game development was one of the best paid creative occupations in the country and 31% of the roles in the industry are programmers, 29% are artists, 24% for game designers or producers, 12% for management or marketing.

Nearly half of the studios (47%) said that skills shortages were limiting the growth of their business – and this had intensified since last year. Gender diversity remains a concern for the sector, with 21% of employees identifying as female or non-binary, and attracting early stage development funding and attracting investment for expansion continue to be the biggest growth challenges to the industry.

The educational benefits of simulations and interactive training continues to be recognised, with 24% of New Zealand interactive studios having made games or apps for businesses clients or government departments and 20% have made games for educational institutions.

The surveyed developers make interactive media for a range of devices and global markets, with 63% making mobile apps, 53% producing PC games, 38% concentrating on console games, 22% making augmented reality apps and 19% making virtual reality games.

When I used to write full-time for a living (a few years ago now), I had a wee bit to do with several NZ game developers and was impressed with what I saw, especially from studios like Flightless, based in Mt Maunganui (RTS game Element, Doomsday Vault & Bee Leader) and Sidhe (now called Pik Pok),  and I had a tour of the Grinding Gears studio a few years back. Here’s to a strong future to all Kiwi game developers.

The Touryst: Just perfect for the Nintendo Switch

Until late last year, I had no idea The Touryst, a cute little game from German developer Shin’en Multimedia, existed.

I first heard about the game when I watched an analysis about the from Digital Foundry, which not only marveled at its pixellated graphical style (which kind of has a Minecraft feel to it) but it pretty much played at a locked 60 frames per second.

Perfect for the Nintendo Switch, The Touryst is an adventure puzzle game where our little hero has to unlock  secrets through mission that will take him to a variety of islands that hide secrets in their ancient monuments: One of them is full of shops and a cinema, the other is a party place with flashing lights bouncing off golden sands, on another rains all the time, one of them has a beautiful surf beach ready to test your skills.

You play as an unnamed tourist who has plans to visit the idyllic islands to relax and recuperate but finds something much, much deeper as he searches island to island, uncovered the secrets of a long lost civilisation.

The game’s art style evokes old school games of the late 80s with their pixelated graphics but they’re a real modern twist to them. They pop on the Nintendo’s screen, too, and the islands themselves are full of minute details and interesting characters: There’s the couple looking for suggestions for great holiday destinations. There’s a fitness fanatic who challenges you to a chin up contest. There’s an art gallery curator wanting you to take photos of interesting things for his next exhibition. There’s the DJ who wants you to expand his record collection.

Each monument has a core which will lead you closer to the secrets of the islands and each monument has a boss battle, or sorts, which will reveal the core when defeated. The Touryst is a surprisingly relaxing game where you can deep sea dive, take photos of people and places and paddle canoes one moment, then take on strange rock creatures guarding the monuments the next.

I have had a blast playing The Touryst. Visually, it’s a delight (running at 1080p in docked mode and 720p in portable mode) and the game play is captivating enough to keep you interested, but it’s not perfect: Some of the jumping puzzles are downright frustrating at times, often hampered by the restricted camera when in tight confines.

The Touryst was a real sleeper hit for me and well worth the $19 it cost. It’s a game that is perfectly suited to the Switch’s format and just the ticket for relaxed gaming sessions when all you want to do is play something a little bit special.

And you know what? The Touryst could be my sleeper hit of the year of 2019, alongside A Plague Tale Innocence.

Tony Slopes demo: A weird but strangely addictive downhill racer

Tony Slopes in his rocket-powered inflatable ring ready to hit the … um, slopes.

It’s almost the end of what could best be described as a forgettable year for me so what better to round off the blogging year with a game that I’m going to add to the “Weird but strangely addictive” files.

I received an email from family-run British developer Seedtech Studios over the weekend (before starting game development the company specialised in 3D visualisation, animation and simulation) with a Steam code for early access to its game Tony Slopes because I had “either requested a copy of the demo for media articles/reviews, for blog/vlogs, or because you have signed up in the past for play-testing.”  I can’t remember if I had done either (to be fair, I have trouble remembering where I put the car keys 20 minutes after I’ve used them) but I downloaded the demo anyway as I was curious to see what it was all about.

Tony Slopes is a multiplayer and single player downhill racing game where you race others down a variety of terrains (snowy slopes, for example) riding a variety of objects. What sort of objects? Ah, a shopping cart with rockets attached, a shark, a crocodile, an inflatable rubber ring  … and a hump back whale. Yes, you read that right: A hump back whale. At the moment, it’s only single player racing, which is fine by me.

For my first race, I selected the shopping cart, a road cone helmet and it’s played like any downhill racer: Navigate your craft around a twisty course (the opening track is set in a mountain range), avoiding the patrolling hi-vis wearing officials and basically getting to the finish line first. If you crash, go off the course or hit a barrier, you respawn and continue racing. I finished third in my first race, pipped at the line by a crocodile and an inflatable boat. There are a lot of customisation options for your character greyed out so it looks like options will unlock as you progress through the game.

For my second race, I selected the humpback whale. It had to be done, right? As you’d expect for a huge water-based mammal, pulling off quick manoeuvres was pretty hard and it took a while to gain momentum as the whale barrelled down the slopes, but you can still do some pretty mean slo-mo jumps with it!

In my third race – in an inflatable ring – I, unfortunately, took out one of the officials who was walking across the track just as I approached the first jump: His scream as he went flying through are still echoing in my head. Sorry, mate. I saw an ambulance parked up nearby, hopefully you got medical attention in time.

Here’s some video I captured of about 30 seconds of racing (there’s a delay in me starting as I had to fumble around to get the capture software recording):

From this demo, Tony Slopes shows a lot of promise already if you’re a fan of downhill racing-style games, and while it’s bare bones right now in terms of features, its clear that Seedtech are leveraging off its background in 3D animation and simulation as for an early access title the game is showing some real promise.

It’s only being developed for PC at the moment but Seedtech says it is in discussions with PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox for a console release. Seedtech is hoping the full game will be out sometime next year.

A game to keep an eye on, I reckon.

Top tech predictions for Christmas

Please note: These consoles are not top picks for this year’s Christmas.

Yes, this is most of a media release but, hey, it’s been a busy year so ride with it.

With Christmas just around the corner, price aggregation site PriceSpy has come up with what it thinks will be the top gadgets, games and consoles this Christmas.

The site predicts that top Christmas gadgets will be the Xiamoi MiJia M365 electric scooter, Apple Airpods Pro, Xiaomi Mi robot vacuum, Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), Apple Watch series 3, Ultimate Ears 3, Fitbit Charge 3, Google Home Mini and Garmin Instinct.

It also predicts that the top games and consoles for this Christmas will be the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, PlayStation 4 Pro, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Logitech G29 Driving Force, Xbox One S, Xbox One wireless controller S and Pokemon Shield.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says it strongly recommend consumers use a price comparison site or app to find the best deals. As well as helping to save money, these sites can help ensure people aren’t paying over the odds on items that may be over-inflated in price.  It’s a fact that many products receive a bigger discount the closer we get towards Christmas. However, it’s also true that some items receive a price hike!

“Carrying out pricing research throughout the year can potentially help save consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which is money that can be saved in the bank!”

I guess we’ll see after the New Year if PriceSpy was on the money, eh?