Category Archives: video games

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?

Pico Tanks: An iOS tank game with a real cutesy factor

I have to start this write up with an apology to Melbourne-based developer Panda Arcade.

Months ago, the Australian developer got in touch with an early access code to Pico Tanks, an iOS and Android game that features cute cartoony tanks battling against each other in 3 vs 3 multiplayer matches.

I redeemed the code, played some of the beta, enjojed it but failed to write up my thoughts. So Panda Arcade, I apologise profusely for writing something up soon. Better late than never, right?

OK, so Pico Tanks. What is it? In a nutshell, it’s tank-based multiplayer combat with really cute visuals and high customisation for your tanks. You can build your tanks from a multitude of bases (which feature a variety of wheel and track configurations), turrets and weapons – as well as popping hats on them for that extra bit of bling!

[Update one: December 16] : Panda Arcade tells me Pico Tanks has soft launched in New Zealand, Australia and The Phillipines and will launch globally in January next year.

Tanks are moved using an on-screen virtual joystick which works extremely well and you shoot and aim using the virtual controls on the right side, either by lining up and firing of just tapping the shoot button As you progress you get a variety of extra abilities like the air strike power up, which does just what it says on the tin: Drops bombs on enemy tanks.

[Update two: December 16]: Panda Arcade has also released a new trailer for Pico Tanks. Here it is:

Good work, Panda Arcade! (and, again, sorry for the lateness in getting this up)

Red Dead Redemption 2: In pictures

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC) A story in pictures

 

It might have arrived on PC a year after the console release, but Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is a beautiful thing. It really is.

Sure, you have to tweak a multitude of settings to get things just right (I’m currently averaging around 55 frames per second with a mix of ultra/high/medium settings) but boy, oh boy, it just looks gorgeous.

RDR2 on PC wasn’t without its problems, though: Rockstar screwed the launch royally with launcher issues, frequent crashes, and new patches that reset all the graphical settings to the default, meaning painless tweaks of each graphics preset had to be done all over again to find the optimal frame rate settings – but things seemed to have settled down now and RDR2 it’s still one of my most favourite games of recent times.

Actually, RDR2 seems to be comparable to Hideo Kojima’s recently released Death Stranding: Both are quite polarising among gamers, both criticised by some for its slow pace while adored by others. I haven’t played Death Stranding so I can’t comment on its game play but I have played RDR2 on both PS4 Pro and PC and I love it. It’s one of my favourite games of recent times.

It’s also got an amazing photo mode and there are so many great moments that I find myself pausing the game, framing a nice shot (especially if it’s night or the sun is just right) then clicking! It’s one of those games that you can document your life thanks to the photo mode.

So, enough words: Here’s is my journey so far through Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC through the lens of the game’s photo mode.

Enjoy.

 

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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.

The Witcher on Switch: What is this magic?

I have to admit I was sceptical when I first heard that CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher Wild Hunt was coming to Nintendo’s hybrid console.

Well, colour me surprised and intrigued as it’s on the Switch and by all accounts, isn’t too bad, at least if this hands-on from Digital Foundry is anything to go by.

And if that analysis isn’t enough, BandaiNamco has released a 40+minute gameplay overview featuring commentary from CDPR community manager Paweł Burza and senior quest designer Paweł Sasko, Senior Quest Designer about Wild Hunt and the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions.

Go have a watch.

The Witcher Wild Hunt releases on Nintendo Switch in October. 

Industry plan could create a billion dollar interactive games sector, report predicts

I’m a strong supporter of the New Zealand video games industry: We’re a small country but have some superb development talent on our shores up and down the country.

Well, a new report says that an industry development plan for New Zealand’s interactive media and games sector could create a billion dollar export industry by 2024. Introducing a coordinated plan that invests in emerging talent and allows interactive media to access existing screen industry programmes would create hundreds of hi-tech and creative industry jobs.

Produced by the New Zealand Game Developers Association with support from NZTech, WeCreate and government agencies, the report looks at the social, educational and economic benefits of interactive media such as games, apps, simulations and virtual reality.

“Interactive media combines two of New Zealand’s strengths – our tech sector and creative industries,” says Cassandra Gray, chairperson of the New Zealand Game Developers Association. “Our aspirational, yet achievable, goal is to see New Zealand become a billion dollar exporter of interactive media, sitting alongside our successful film and software sectors. We’ve made a strong start, but our sector is still young and growing.”

The report identified interactive games as the greatest potential creator of new jobs and export earnings. While New Zealand’s games industry earned over $143 million in 2018, the global market is worth $258 billion. Gaining one percent of the global video games market would generate $258 million in new exports. The sector has grown 39 per cent annually for the last six years, and if an industry plan and government support maintained this growth rate then the industry would be worth one billion dollars in 2024.

“Forty years ago our film industry partnered with the Government and we now have a multi-billion dollar screen industry. Twenty years ago our music industry did the same. Our interactive and games industry has reached the stage where it has the capability, skills and international opportunity to similarly contribute significant jobs, exports and social benefits,” says Gray.

The skills developed in interactive entertainment are also being applied to education, mental health and business apps. For instance, fifty nine percent of New Zealand children have used educational games at school.

The report also covers the rise of esports, indie games, virtual and augmented reality, serious games, and Māori and indigenous interactive storytelling.

Interactive media currently slips through the cracks of Government culture, media and innovation policy. To coordinate the industry plan the report calls for the establishment of the New Zealand Interactive Commission, modelled on existing creative industries agencies the music and film commissions, and an interactive innovation fund. The report also recommends that Government screen and cultural programmes be modernised to include interactive media.

Globally, several countries have recently introduced interactive industry programmes. Finland, with a population similar to New Zealand, has an interactive sector worth $3.8 billion annually – 25 times the size of ours – as the result of government support.

Many of the report’s recommendations are already being implemented and will be discussed at the New Zealand Game Developers Conference next month at Te Papa. The Game Developers Association has already increased the support package for its Kiwi Game Starter startup challenge and is introducing a student day, mentoring programme and an industry skills working group.

You can download the Interactive Aotearoa report from www.nzgda.com.

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