Category Archives: Games

Elite CommandAR Smartphone Game Controller Review

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of AppGear for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

When I first experienced augmented reality, I was rather amazed. Through the computer's camera lens, I was able to see something that really wasn't there in real life. But, it was there! But, it really wasn't. 

You could talk about augmented reality to someone who has never experienced it first hand, and that would still not be enough to explain just how transformative an experience it is. I've tried, too — explaining that it's a lot like finally being able to see something like an imaginary friend. With special glasses, a completely different world opens up to you. 

I see "AR" apps aplenty, but few as immersive as I would want them to be. As someone who is more of a casual gamer, I definitely appreciate gaming experiences that are simple to understand, visually compelling, and addictive. 

I picked up the AppGear Elite CommandAR, inserted the required array of batteries, plugged the audio cable into my smartphone's headphone jack, installed a compatible game, and… was firing away at moving targets within moments. Then, I was laughing — having almost too much fun, spinning around my home office and trying to target these floating orbs that weren't really there.

Elite CommandAR in Action

It was the controller that made all the difference to me, to tell you the truth. I've played AR games on smartphone surfaces alone — and while they're certainly fine, there's something to be said about holding onto an object that further thrusts you into an experience that an augmented reality world can provide. 

The Elite CommandAR was light enough to hold onto for a period of time without introducing too much fatigue. Of course, I'm really not accustomed to holding my arms out or up for anything for tasks that take longer than a minute — and, yes, this toy gun (despite appearing like it would work with a single hand) was designed to be held by both hands. The trigger could be pulled comfortably by either pointer finger — but the other controls were positioned and optimized for left-handed operation (while holding onto the gun's grip with your right hand). 

The trigger was quite responsive; I never felt like there was a delay in between the time I'd press a button and something would happen on-screen. Same goes for any of the other controller buttons. 

The suggested games, themselves, were engaging enough to keep me from wanting to put the plastic pistol down! I found myself walking to a more open space (than what's available to me in my home office), spinning around to fight virtual enemies through a very comfortable viewfinder — my smartphone. 

And that's the kicker: not only does it work well with iOS, but Android as well. Too many products these days are locked into a single vertical. This way, you could battle a friend in the 2-player co-op mode and not have to be running on the same smartphone platform.

Elite CommandAR Smartphone Game Controller Review

So, yeah — you could continue to play games on that single flat screen device. But when it comes to first-person shooters… I tell ya, I'd rather be holding onto something that feels like a gun instead of merely tapping a screen. It's far more compelling an experience that way — and the Elite CommandAR provides a perfect compliment to software that's easy to manage and plays well.

I'd much rather play a game on my smartphone than connect to a cumbersome console. With Elite CommandAR, I was untethered and free to take the screen with me wherever I wanted to play. Mobile gaming, as I've been saying for years, will kill consoles eventually — and these types of accessories serve to bring that future into the present. 

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iPad Arcade Cabinet

Are you a classic gamer? Do you own an iPad? You might be surprised how easy it is to build an arcade cabinet for you iPad so you can play your favorite classic arcade games in their original and intended form.

The iCADE started as an April Fool’s joke by ThinkGeek that caught on. The demand for this product was overwhelming, so they partnered with ION to make it come to life. Now available for $99 on ThinkGeek, the iCADE makes it possible for you to play classic games on your iPad as they were originally played at an arcade.

The cabinet itself takes very little time to assemble. It takes about 15-20 minutes and once you’re finished you have a very handsome table-top arcade cabinet. The first and second generation iPads are both supported, and any future version of the iPad should work as well so long as the form factor doesn’t change dramatically.

The one downside to the iCADE is the relatively small number of games that current support it. Thought you have 100 titles through the Atari’s Greatest Hits app, more game developers should jump on board and create apps that allow this kind of bluetooth control. In order for the iCADE to be anything more than a decorative iPad stand, you need to purchase Atari’s Greatest Hits for the iOS and install it on your iPad.

The cabinet itself looks great, and would no-doubt add a touch of nostalgia to any room where it resides. The joystick and buttons have the same classic look and feel you would find in any larger cabinet and they really work. A lit coin slot is a nice touch that lets you know the iPad is bluetooth connected and ready to go.

Overall, the iCADE is a fun accessory if you’re serious about classic gaming. You are required to purchase Atari’s Greatest Hits through the iTunes App Store for your iPad, which adds roughly $15 to the $99 cost if you decide to grab all 100 games.

How to Play PC Games on Your Phone

For many StarCraft fans, finding the will to leave the house and stop playing can be difficult. Thankfully, Splashtop Inc. has created a product that allows you to play DirectX 9, 10, and 11 games where other remote desktop clients often lack any support for 3D. In short, they’ve created an app that allows you to play PC games on your phone.

Splashtop Remote Desktop is free for desktops and about $2 for mobile devices making it one of the most affordable solutions for handheld remote desktops in its class.

Compatibility across platforms is impressive, allowing users of iOS, Android (2.2 Froyo and above), and even WebOS to use the program through dedicated apps available in their respective markets. Windows and Mac users are both able to use the server software to stream their desktops, as long as they meet the necessary system requirements. For Windows, all you need to stream is XP, Vista, or 7 and at least 1 GB of RAM and a 1.6GHz dual-core CPU. Mac uses will need the at least the same hardware with OS X 10.6+.

Latency is low but still present, so this won’t be a good platform for playing games that require fast movements and responses. First-person shooters will likely frustrate you as a player, as the latency between your device and the computer is coupled with the system’s latency to the game server. Games that do play relatively well include RTS titles like StarCraft II and various Command and Conquer titles where queueing up forces and planning strategies doesn’t require optimized response times.

This solution isn’t perfect. If you plan on using this method to play competitively online, the results may prove disappointing. At its heart, Splashtop Remote Desktop is made to allow you to access your desktop using your mobile phone wherever you may be. While it has the functionality needed to stream games and video, you won’t be advancing to the finals in any StarCraft leagues with this as your interface.

Are Video Games a Waste of Time?

I think anyone who grew up with a PC or video game console in their home has, at one point or another, muttered something under their breath as their parents asked them to stop playing and do something “useful” with their time. We’ve all heard arguments about the development of hand-eye coordination and how beneficial gaming can be as children develop their motor skills. To a point this makes sense, but are video games a waste of time for adults?

MMORPGs and immersive gaming environments such as World of Warcraft have a strong reputation of sucking every second of free time someone has and and turning an otherwise sociable person in to an albino cave dweller that never leaves the comfort they find in the warm glow of their monitors. Frankly, the same can be said for any activity that takes time to partake in. People can become addicted to food, chat rooms, watching professional football, and even activities with more positive reputations like exercise.

One thing that is true, is that gaming is big business. Companies like Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Activision make as much on the first weekend of a game release as the movie industry does on its biggest blockbusters. At often $40-60 per copy, this industry is beginning to be taken more seriously as time goes on. It would only stand to reason that game makers are spending considerable time researching ways to not only make the initial sale, but keep users hooked long enough to sell expansion packs and monthly subscriptions. Everything from how a game looks and sounds is taken in to account when determining what it is players will stick with.

So is it a waste of time? Some would argue that any activity that serves the purpose of helping you unwind after a long day has inherent benefits to anyone taking part in it. Others would give examples where users have become addicted, and that addiction has served to the detriment of the player and those around them. Just like with food, gaming can be good in moderation. Too much of a good thing can cause problems down the road. If you are one of those dedicated gamers who spends upwards of eight or even 16 hours a day, every day, hooked into these virtual spaces, you might want to consider whether or not you are actually wasting your time.

The Supreme Court Rules Video Games Protected by Free Speech

A California law that would prohibit the sale of “violent” video games to minors has been struck down by the Supreme court (7-2), after being deemed an unconstitutional violation of free speech. This ruling came after strong arguments from both side were weighed and considered.

Arguments against the law included current restrictions on selling certain movies to minor due to nudity or strong language that warrants R or NC-17 ratings. If these restrictions can be made on movies, why wouldn’t they apply on video games that feature decapitation and torture?

Justice Clarence Thomas argued that free speech, as used in the constitution, doesn’t apply to minors and therefor the law doesn’t actually violate this code. Some of his stronger points include various points where founding fathers (including Thomas Jefferson) had indicated parents had control over their children’s speech and therefor the rules of free speech do not apply to them.

The majority, however, shared the viewpoints that America as a country has no longstanding tradition of blocking children from violent content, and therefor it would be unfair to impose such a strong restriction now. In addition, the current ratings system, managed by the ESRB, are already in place to give parents a clear indication as to the level of graphic content present in a game.

Looking back throughout the history of mankind, it is hard to say that violent literature, video games, or other forms of entertainment have actually had any real bearing on the level of violence we see in society. Some of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world have populations with little or no access to some of the most violent video games our youth are exposed to regularly.

Humans have been violent for as long as they have been around, dating back to centuries (and possibly much longer) before recorded history. Violence, while not a good thing, has been a part of human culture since the beginning, and it would be short-sighted to place the blame of any and all acts of violence by youth on pixels.

What do you think? Do video games cause violence?

Could Electronic Sports Ever Find Their Way to the Olympics?

Professional gamers can train longer and harder than professional athletes. A track runner or swimmer will tire and need rest, but a pro gamer can continue training throughout the day and well in to the night. This begs the question, “Could electronic sports ever find their way to the Olympics?”

Electronic gaming is big business, and some tournaments bring keyboard athletes from all over the globe to compete for prizes that often exceed a typical year’s salary for most professionals. Entry fees to competitive LAN tournaments can be quite high, and some professional gamers take on sponsors to cover these fees and the cost for their trips around the globe.

So, with competitive video gaming being such a big deal, does it ever stand a chance at becoming an Olympic sport? Some would argue it has every reason to be. The skill and training required to make it to top rankings in games like StarCraft 2, Call of Duty, Command and Conquer, and even the World of Warcraft leagues can easily be compared to that of a professional archer or curler. The coordination and planning it takes to best a top contender in an RTS must be incredible.

E-sports are often met with a roll of the eyes and a chuckle among those that haven’t witnessed the kind of dedication these digital athletes put in to their craft. For this reason, among others, the sport isn’t often highlighted by media that don’t focus on the world of technology. This isn’t the case everywhere.

In South Korea, popular RTS (real-time strategy) StarCraft has taken to the mainstream. League matches commonly draw tens of thousands of fans to packed venues and even more watch on cable television. Top players are viewed as celebrities much like a baseball player would be in the states.

As the world of electronic sports continues to grow, one can only assume that the amount of attention players receive will flourish with it. Who knows, if a few more countries embraced e-sports the way South Korea has, we may not be far off from seeing gamers like HuK, TTOne, or SLush on a box of Wheaties.

Where Does the World of Warcraft Gold Come From?

As of March, 2011, there were more than 11.4 million subscribers to the popular World of Warcraft game. Every one of those people need in-game gold in order to buy gear, enchant and gem said gear, buy potions or food and repair things after being killed by enemies. Most people get that gold into their hot little hands the old-fashioned way: they earn it. Grinding through quests, dailies and heroics is time-consuming, though. Some players simply don’t want to have to work that hard in order to reap the benefits having a lot of gold in your bags can bring. Instead, they choose to buy their in-game money with real money… a practice that is frowned upon by Blizzard Entertainment and most hard-core players.

There are websites out there which will sell you mass quantities of gold in exchange for your hard-earned cash. Many of them offer as much as 20,000 gold at a time, with delivery promised within the hour. The question, though, is where that gold comes from. It’s a well-known fact that gold farmers suck. I’ve heard horror stories from players trying to complete quests who cannot because a gold farmer is busy camping an area in order to kill repeatedly for the money drops. Who the heck is behind this farming?

A recent article in The Guardian ran a story on Wednesday about this topic, and the post shocked many. Chinese citizen Liu Dali was a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp. During the day, he was forced to do hard labor outdoors. At night, he was forced to kill demons, animals and even other players… farming WoW gold. He claims to be only one of many prisoners who were literally forced to play games like WoW for many hours every day, earning gold to later be sold for real money.

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off. If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

It is believed that about 80% of the people who farm for gold in games like WoW are located in China, and that there are more than 100,000 people doing so. With such a lucrative business venture, it’s hard to tell how many of those people are being forced to play, and how many are doing so for very VERY low wages while their bosses rake in the profits.

I do NOT want to know if you are a WoW (or other game) player who buys in-game gold or credits. That’s just something we don’t need to share, y’all. I’m not putting anyone down or judging them. Your way of playing is your own. However, I know that if I were playing one of those games, I’d find it much more satisfying to earn my bankroll the hard way.