Search Results for Category: RandomPost – The Magazine Followup Review

Last fall I wrote a review of the scanning service, a service where you send in your books and documents and they would professionally scan them into unprotected, high quality PDF documents.

In addition to basic scanning, they also offer some premium services (which I did not take advantage of) such as OCR, filenaming and high quality tuning. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Samsung Galaxy Player 5.0

Android has long needed a non-phone “iPod Touch” equivalent as a way of introducing consumers to the platform, after all, the Touch has served for many as a low-cost gateway drug to everything that iOS has to offer.  Offering a reasonably priced media player with app support provides a much needed bridge for those not ready to sign a 2-year contract for a smartphone plan, or the cost commitment of purchasing a $400-$500+ tablet.

Thus far, the early Android media players have lacked both the quality and form factor that have made the iPod Touch a hit.  Units from Archos have perhaps come closest, but the smaller, non-tablet models are still bulky and clearly inferior in comparison.  What’s been needed is a device from one of the main Android phone manufacturers that can deliver the “Android phone without the phone” experience that the iPod Touch serves as for the iPhone. Read more

Exploring Digital Distribution Part 4: Unsustainable Success Stories

Go to Part 3

In this multi-part article on Digital Distribution, we will explore various aspects of the digital distribution model along with successes, failures and speculate on the future of this model based on current and past trends. This series will be primarily aimed at video gaming and media such as film and television.

In our last article, we compared and contrasted the promised delivery of Digital Distribution and why they just don’t pass the test. In this final article, we will take a look at some of the success stories of current day Digital Distribution and discuss the future. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Exploring Digital Distribution Part 3: Fact or Fiction?

Go to Part 2

In this multi-part article on Digital Distribution, we will explore various aspects of the digital distribution model along with successes, failures and speculate on the future of this model based on current and past trends. This series will be primarily aimed at video gaming and media such as film and television.

In our last article, we discussed all the Good Things(tm) that Digital Distribution promises; both to consumers as well as Content Providers. Now we need a reality check on these points.

Content Providers believe Digital Distribution will provide them with several things; absolute control, anti-piracy measures, after-market resales, price/flow control and reduction in costs.

Absolute control requires complete anti-piracy measures and this simply isn’t possible. So, let’s look at that first. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Exploring Digital Distribution Part 2: Let the Sun Shine In

Go to Part 1

In this multi-part article on Digital Distribution, we will explore various aspects of the digital distribution model along with successes, failures and speculate on the future of this model based on current and past trends. This series will be primarily aimed at video gaming and media such as film and television.

In our last article we discussed what Digital Distribution is, how you have been living with it for decades and how it has affected the major areas of entertainment. In this article, we will look at the positive side of Digital Distribution from the point of views of both the content providers and consumers.

It is important to note that much of what we discuss here appears on BOTH the positive and negative lists. Before saying “you can’t have it both ways”, just remember there are two parties involved here – the provider and the consumer. Buying a $10 hot dog at a ball game certainly benefits the vendor but since you could make the same snack at home for about $.25 it really has a negative effect on the consumer. Keep that in mind. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game (3DS)

Is anyone else getting tired of “Lego” themed games?  I mean, I understand the IP and I get what they are trying to do with it; making family friendly skinned platformer/adventure games using safe, bloodless, no-way-to-lose themes like Legos.

I get it.  Maybe if we weren’t whoring version after version in the SAME IP space over and over again – maybe I would be more tolerant.  But it seems we have to have a Lego version of not just ONE Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones or Star Wars – but each movie PLUS a “greatest hits” version for each one too.

Based on the above, I wasn’t all that interested in “Lego Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game” – but we all know that 3DS software has been a bit anemic so far, and I wanted something new to play.

Let me start off by saying if what you want is a less Lego and more “pure” Pirates of the Caribbean experience – albeit in 2D – I seriously recommend the Nintendo DS platformer versions of Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End).  The first one is exceptional – and while the latter one is pleasant enough, they changed up the formula a bit and it wasn’t kind to the game IMHO.  They are native Nintendo DS games, so they may not look as pretty, but they are representative of some of the finest platformers on the DS family.

But enough digression … how does the latest Lego engine matched with the Pirates IP fare?

For those unfamiliar with the Lego family of games – let me give you a quick overview.  Those comfortable in the Lego world may skip ahead.

As mentioned above, Lego games take more serious IPs like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. and model them into the Lego world as adventure/platformers.  The games often take minor liberties with the storylines and add a little more humor and quirkiness into the game and its missions.  They also remove some of the stumbling blocks to making the games more casual-friendly; for example, while you “die” in the games (you have a health meter), there is really no penalty for it.  You spawn back to life and carry on.  Sometimes you could be moved back to a previous “checkpoint”, but overall – there is no way to really “screw up”.  Eventually, everybody wins; and for some gamers that is a huge turn off.

However, Lego games are more about experiencing the storyline and finding all the hidden stuff littered throughout the game.  Hidden rooms/areas, hidden objects/collectibles – some locked away behind places you cannot get to until you replay the level with some other character – offer the more story-driven game the replay value it needs.

Regardless of the IP represented in the Lego game, these standards are pretty much upheld – offering a consistency across the Lego game universe.  You know what you’re getting going in – regardless of platform or IP – love it or hate it.

That being said, Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game (from this point on known as “POTC”) falls into the “greatest hits” Lego game meaning that the game covers the first three films of the Pirates series as well as dabbling briefly into the new fourth film coming out this summer.

The game begins (and continues) telling the story via cut scenes (thankfully – SKIPPABLE cut scenes; an offer not afforded on the Wii version of the game – just hit the START button during playback) where you take on the action at various scenes of the films.  You’ll start off in the blacksmith’s shop at the beginning as the Orlando Bloom character – trying to awaken the smith and get a sword made.  As you know from the movie, Captain Jack Sparrow eventually shows up and you will have to fight him.  During the initial combat with Captain Jack, you’ll use on-screen “quick time events” (QTEs) to progress.  This lends to the drama of the scene – and fortunately combat resumes to standard button mashing later on.

During each scene, you will engage in combat and solve basic puzzles.  Puzzles range from simply figuring out how to get from A to B by rebuilding Lego structures (or destroying an existing one first and harvesting its pieces) all the way to gaining control of on-screen non-player characters like dogs and parrots and using them to assist you.  There are gears and pulleys, pressure plates, explosives and more to align to progress through each level.

Almost all scenes have “something extra” outside the normal mission parameters to accomplish – normally in the way of gathering “collectible” items, uncovering hidden coins (coins are the means of currency across all Lego games) or performing alternative tasks for some other gain.  Some “areas” of a scene may be off-limits to the character(s) currently at your disposal.  These “locked” areas are what keep you coming back to play the level again later – after you’ve unlocked another player character that can fullfill the requirements.  Jack Sparrow also has a “magic compass” that will show you where some hidden items are.

As you adventure, you’ll pick up new party members based on the film’s cast and availability during that scene.  As you get new players, you get new “abilities” needed for upcoming puzzles.  The game will make sure you know who is needed for what challenge – so if you’re worried about having to figure that out for yourself, don’t be concerned.  When you move near the objective, the player required will flash on the bottom screen and you will use the L / R shoulder buttons to toggle through them.  What I find COMPLETELY annoying is that you cannot just touch the character on the touch screen.  What’s …. THAT all about?  I’m cool with being able to do it with buttons, but why not allow both?

Your character has a “health” meter, which as always in Lego games seems pointless – since you just keep respawing after death with no penalty.  Falling off the edge of a large drop will kill you outright and a hit from a guard’s weapon will deduct damage.  Players appear to have different skills – Jack Sparrow is a better sword fighter than any of the other characters I’ve unlocked so far.

Folks – it’s a Lego game – you know what you’re getting in game play (for the most part).  What we will focus on next is the 3DS implementation.

How Does It Look?
Visually speaking, POTC is a visual treat for your 3DS – in either 2D or 3D mode.  The game was created really to be played in 3D and you’ll find something missing from the ambience.  The 3D is never gratuitous or overbearing and simply adds to the depth of the game you’re playing.  Quite handy for the 3D jumps you’ll be making throughout the game.  Funny how much better it looks than the Wii version.

You will find some very minor frame rate issues in a couple of levels.  The game never stops or stutters, but you can definitely tell the framerate takes a hit.  Fortunately the issues are far and few between.  Still, it would be irresponsible to not mention it.

The engine itself is very well done.  Rarely do you see any issues of getting stuck on the geometry, seeing things stick through other objects, bleed through, object tearing or other such typical “new engine” issues.  It is much appreciated when they maintain the illusion of the game.

The advanced lighting functionality of the 3DS really shines in this game and it is worth noting when comparing it to the Wii or DS version – lighting makes a difference.  It is a very nice show-off game.

The rendered cut scenes look fantastic – again, far better than the Wii edition (which uses the engine to render the cut scenes).  They are skippable too – which is always great.  It must’ve been overall cheaper to use a bigger cartridge for video clips than to spend the man hours creating the cut scenes with the engine.

How Does It Sound?
Everything is here you would expect – the ripping POTC movie theme music, the swashbuckling sounds of the sword fights, etc.  The “Lego engine” sounds are all present and accounted for as well (building Legos, getting coins, etc).

The music loops noticeably at times if you spend long enough on a level.  Not everyone notices things like that, but it stands out to me.  It isn’t awful, but worth mentioning.

If I had any complaint about the audio presentation it would be the slightly quiet volume throughout.  Playing it in a quiet room offers no resistance, but if you have anything else going on, you’ll probably need headphones.

Anything Else?
Well, I’m still confused about something.  Why is there any significant “load time” with a cartridge-based game?  I understand “Loading …” with a DVD or CD or UMD.  But what’s the deal on a handheld?  The load times between levels on POTC are long; too long for a portable game system.  Yes, yes the game looks and plays great – and some people are willing to wait.  But 40 seconds at a time?  That’s kind of crazy if you ask me – if I wanted those kinds of load times, I could play UMD games on my PSP. 🙂  These load times happen between each major level change.

Overall, this game is a solid addition to the 3DS line up.  It looks and plays great, the 3D is worthwhile and it has very good replay potential.  If you’re a big fan of the Lego universe, this is a no-brainer top-notch entry in the series.  Even if you’re not, the slight change up in focus to more puzzle solving over action platforming might win you over.

As a bonus, you won’t be ashamed to show your console-playing friends your version of the game.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS)

Let’s face it–there are a ton of Super Monkey Ball games out there for even console, handheld, and mobile device.  And although controls have included touch screens, controller-tilt, device-tilt, and even full-body balance board tilt, the original analog stick control of the original games on GameCube and PS2 were arguably never matched by these newer control schemes.  So it’s no surprise that for Super Monkey Ball fans, the new Circle Pad elbows it’s way to the forefront as the star feature of the game despite the attention the 3D visuals understandably get from gamers.

And that’s not to say the 3D isn’t spectacular on Super Monkey Ball 3D–in typical Sega fashion, the game is beautifully adorned with some of the most vibrant and colorful art design of any of the launch titles I’ve played Read more

Rabbids Travel in Time 3D (3DS)

I love Rabbids.  I have since their debut on the Nintendo Wii so many years ago.  They are a property I would have expected to go farther – but they do have their own line of toys and accessories; everything from action figures to Wii controller chargers.  They are cute, funny and nothing beats pumping their masks full of carrot juice.  Naturally, when a Rabbids title dropped for my shiny new Nintendo 3DS, I just had to race out and buy it.

I’m a whore for platformers.  I’ve been playing them across systems for decades and still fire up classic titles from time to time (ever play Superfrog on the Amiga? I still play that).  Heck, I dropped my share of quarters in Super Mario Bros. at the arcade – as much as the next guy.

Unfortunately, platformers don’t tend to range in quality – they seem to either totally rock or totally suck; rarely do they appear to fall somewhere in between – and yet that’s exactly how this outing of Rabbids is … somewhere in between.

The premise is pretty simple.  Using a magic time traveling washing machine, you take your rabbid into various eras (prehistoric, Egyptian, medieval, etc.) and collect coins (and rubber ducks – which are actually just coins).  Getting to the end of each level is the end goal – and coins help you unlock stuff along the way.

Would you believe that’s the entire premise of the game?  Every “world” has various levels to play – each one almost the same as the last (in some cases, the levels have perfect clone parts of other levels).  Like Super Mario Bros., you unlock them in a sequential order with the occasional bonus level along the way.  Uh .. yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Oh, you have to collect pieces of the time machine along the way through the time period.

There are two types of unlockables along the way – figurines and pictures.  These are obtained essentially by getting coins (or ducks – which are really just 5x or 10x coins) or by performing levels over again in Against the Clock type modes (more about this in a minute).  The figurines are 3D objects that feature a rabbid or two animated on it.  You can zoom in and out and rotate it.  The pictures are “puzzles” that have like four pieces that you earn to complete them.  The longer I played the game, the less I started caring about these unlockables.

You can also earn costumes by completing bonus levels (which you unlock with – you got it, coins).  The bonus levels have you – that’s right – gather coins to fill a meter – if you fill it up in time (they are VERY generous with the time), you unlock some costume you can skin your rabbid with (using a more-complicated-than-it-had-to-be control system) and play the game from that point on with your newly dressed rabbid.

Well that covers WHY you’re playing – so let’s move on to the levels themselves.

The levels are very generic – both in construction and design.  Most of the standard things are here – holes to fall in, spikes to hurt you, breakable blocks, butt bouncing, trampolines, swinging vines, tipping seesaw platforms, spouts that push you up (and some that hurt you) – there is nothing here you haven’t seen before – and better implemented elsewhere.  Some very light puzzle solving (you can pick up some blocks and move them so that you can reach a higher place) is involved, but don’t expect this to carry the game.

The occasional enemy rabbid dressed in some “period” clothing shows up – but as you play more, you’re wonder why they even bothered putting them in there at all.  Rarely will they offer any sort of resistance other than a “lucky hit” from time to time.  Even the ones swinging from vines are very easily dispatched.

There are other obstacles you’ll encounter that will be minor annoyances – but it seems they purposefully made them easy to dispatch.  Sometimes you’ll find a bunch of mines you have to time your jumps carefully through, but most of the time, you can grab a box or item and throw them at the mines (where they vanish with a poof rather than the explosion you would hope for).

As mentioned before – levels are levels – be it in the prehistoric world or in the Egyptian world.  There won’t be a single level you’ll go “whoa, now that was cool and I’m DYING to play it again” – which is too bad.  You’re going to do the same things ad nauseam – so hopefully you like it.  Minor exceptions occur – like the level you spend running (and you can’t stop – just jump or attack) away from the T-Rex – you know, the level that is shown in EVERY video for the game you see.  Overall, playing through the levels feel like more of a “means to an end” vice a savory experience.

You can replay levels in Stopwatch mode and in Mission mode – neither mode overly drove me to play the sub-standard level designs over and over.  Stopwatch ranks you based on how fast you can finish the level – the Mission mode requires you to perform certain actions (don’t get hit the entire level, for example) or collection particular items.

Your character offers the basic actions – jump, attack (on ground or in air), pick up/throw (also on ground or in air) and a frantic running action (which doesn’t do anything – no longer jumping or anything).  You can also zoom in and out of the level (not much – like two camera settings – again, you wonder why they bothered at all).  There are a couple of “power ups” you’ll see – invincibility (aka Star Power) and a propeller hat (longer jumps for a few seconds) – but they are FAR and few between; so much so that you’ll forget about them by the time you see the next one.

The controls are fine – yet the button placement always seems backwards to what I want to do – which makes it hard to get used to using the “carryable” items.  This could very likely be a personal issue – so I won’t come down on the game for it – but it’s like the A and B button REALLY need to be reversed for my liking.  Character response to controls are well-done (you know what games are like that have poor reaction times to input) and you don’t feel like you’re fighting with your character the whole time.

Graphics are fine – although the camera keeps you pulled away so far most of the time you won’t get to really enjoy them.    You can zoom up (as mentioned above) but it’s like two settings – “far” and “not so far”.  The level graphics are pretty damn good though – especially with the 3D effects (more on that in a minute).  While pleasant, these graphics do not push the 3DS much at all and you feel like you’re playing a DS game that has been overhauled.  There is no good use of lighting effect or advanced graphics techniques that the 3DS is perfectly capable of.

From a 3D standpoint, the use of 3D is pretty dang good.  The 3D parallax scrolling of levels is fantastic (especially the lava levels).  Sparse use of more advanced 3D features is very fresh and well-done.  Rarely does anything “fly out” but landscape or items (like a giant scarab beetle) appear BETWEEN your player and the camera, so you get a real funky sense of 3D for those moments.  Because they are rare, they will not detract you from the game and they are “special” each time they happen.  When you die, your rabbid is flung against the camera “in your face” and the glass breaks – a fun effect but it should have followed the other effects and only happened every so often.  The good news is – you won’t die enough to really care about it.

The game’s aural presentation is pleasant and isn’t annoying (always nice).

What’s sad is, this isn’t a bad game – but it just isn’t a good game either.  The MECHANICS are sound enough – but they phoned in the level design so much that is just isn’t fun to play as a core platformer game.  There are no hidden areas to explore, no real reason to replay levels and not enough penalty for burning through the level as fast as you can just to get to the end.  While the 3D effect is nice, they forgot about everything else with the 3DS – no streetpass, no spotpass notices – no multiplayer (local or otherwise), no mini-games and “between DS and 3DS graphics”.

What’s worse, I never laughed even once playing this game.  I expect a certain level of entertainment around rabbids – and even THAT wasn’t there.  While I’m bitching, let’s throw in the fact you can’t skip the intro every time you boot it up.

The game seems hurried – from the obvious incomplete feature set to the barely upgraded DS graphics down to the really cookie cutter level design.  It seems to suffer from a target audience confusion too – who is this for?  It’s not really made for young kids, but the levels don’t challenge the adult player very often and when they do, it’s pretty simplistic.

I’ve seen worse platform games – but I’ve seen a lot better ones too.  It doesn’t offer the “just one more level” addictive quality that a platformer should – the only reason you keep playing is hoping the next level/world will be better than what you just played.  If what you want is a super casual no-challenge rabbids themed platformer – this might fit the bill.  Otherwise, spend LESS money, grab Super Mario Bros DS and play THAT in your 3DS instead.  You might miss the 3D – but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

If you feel you just HAVE to try this game – do it as a rental or a used “Gamestop returnable” title.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

MadCatz 3DS Traveler Bag

People seem to have a very love/hate relationship with accessories.  With each new handheld, so many of us rush out to buy some sort of case, protector, skin or something else we are absolutely sure will protect our new investment from that inevitable drop, crush, throw or toss that will destroy our beloved new toy.

Of course, within a week or two, you stop carrying your new toy around in the jacket.  The carrying case ends up in a drawer somewhere.  In short, once the honeymoon is over, the luggage goes in the attic.

Lately, though, I find myself carrying around a lot more electronics; my big ass HTC Thunderbolt, the 3DS (I’ve become a whore for shooting 3D pictures), a higher quality P&S camera, a USB power pack … the list seems to grow every year.  So, when I went to pick out the “wedding suit” for my new 3DS, I decided to get something a little bigger that could not only carry my 3DS but my other electronics as well.

Enter the MadCatz Travel Bag – promising a roomy bag for any Nintendo DS (although marketed to 3DS right now of course – and the front branding says 3DS).

I own about 350 Nintendo DS games – but like so many others, I’ll use a flash cart to help me carry them all around with me in my DSi.  Since this isn’t an option for the 3DS yet (heck, it might never be), I was attracted to the numerous slots (21 in fact) for games plus the fold out design is clean and usable.

As with many of these cases, there are adjustable (via Velcro) inserts that come preconfigured in four sections – three squares and a rectangle for the game system.  The sections can be moved around for a few different configurations – but you’ll likely end up keeping the default configuration.

The front of the case has a very clean DS logo montage and the “lid” features a double zipper design.  The top has a sturdy handle – but there are no straps (nor clips for straps) so if you are looking for an “over the shoulder” solution, you’re out of luck.

The overall construction of the bag meets or exceeds any of MadCatz other bags or carry-alongs.  I tested it’s durability by putting all my “take with you to an event” electronics (cell, p&s camera, 3DS, battery, etc) and carried it by its handle.  The bag appears to hold up the weight just fine.  Over time, of course, it’s going to start getting droopy – as all bags tend to do – but I think you’ll get through the honeymoon phase and beyond.

The price tag is a bit higher than most bags – $20 vice the normal $15 or so.  Totally to be expected the week after the 3DS launches – I expect we’ll see it cheaper in the coming months.  Oddly enough, the bag isn’t available on Amazon for several more days from now (same price, but you might not have to pay tax or shipping – depending on your Amazon Prime status).

Is it for you?  You’ll have to decide.  For me, it will likely join the dusty collection of bags within six months – but I’m going to try to use it as a more “all purpose” carry-along.  Construction-wise and design is solid – so if you need the extra room to haul your crap around and you don’t have a man-clutch already – this might be just what the Dr. Mario ordered.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Nintendo 3DS Launch “Frequently Asked Questions”

This document will be frequently updated as more information about Nintendo 3DS becomes available.  If you have a question that’s not answered here, let us know and we’ll be happy to add it once the information becomes available. Read more