Nvidia announces GeForce GTX 690

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under News, PC

After many rumors about Nvidia’s dual GPU solution, now that the flagship GTX 680 has been launched, nothing concrete has come from Nvidia. That is until last night when the GTX 690 was officially announced.

As you would expect, the GTX 690 carries two GF110 GPUs, so you get double the benefits of a GTX 680. 3072 CUDA cores, 64 ROPs, 256-bit bus on each GPU and 4GB of RAM in total. Gone is the NF200 bridge used in the GTX 590, instead we have PLX’s PEX 874x switch that is PCIe 3.0 enabled, with 48 lanes.

To accommodate for two GPUs on one PCB some speed drops have been made to reduce heat, but thankfully not by much. Core clock speed is 915MHz (boosting to 1019MHz) compared to the GTX 680′s 1006MHz (Boosting up to 1058MHz).

Power comes in the form of two 8-pin connectors, with the GTX 690 rated at 300W TDP, compared to 375W TDP on the GTX 590. But not only does the GTX 690 dissipate less heat, but also runs cooler and quieter, 47dB compared to 51dB on the GTX 590.

The new heatsink on the GTX 690 is equally impressive, in that the aluminum fins on top of the GPUs are attached to chrome-plated aluminum cover, as opposed to the plastic cover on pretty much all of their other cards. Even the fan housing is magnesium alloy, which reduces noise and dampens vibrations. Nvidia will also have an LED which can be controlled by partners to indicate different things, changing colors or level of glow depending on the usage for instance.

All said, the number of monitors connected to the GTX 690 is limited to four, three via DVI and one mini-DisplayPort. The asking price for this impressively engineered product is $1000, which works out about the same as two GTX 680s. Availability will begin on 3rd of May, with more shipments coming in on 7th May. However, given the limited availability of the GTX 680s, don’t expect the GTX 690s to linger in stock for more than a few hours.

We’ll have full review coverage soon.

The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition Review

April 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

Almost a year back CD Projekt RED released, what was to be for many, the best RPG of 2011. And yes, that’s including Dark Souls and Skyrim. And after the recent debacle of Mass Effect 3’s ending, the Xbox 360 community, at least, is ready for a something different to take their minds off. And so The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition comes to our rescue.

The ‘Enhanced Edition’ of The Witcher 2 marks the debut of this franchise on home consoles; limited, of course, just to the Xbox 360 for now. For those of you who don’t know, the original Witcher was released in Fall 2007, becoming an instant classic thanks to engaging gameplay and deep plot choices.

Even back then The Witcher was released with an Enhanced Edition (known in the US as the Director’s Cut) that improved various gameplay elements as well as removing the censorship from the original US release. Today, we’ll be looking at The Witcher 2’s Enhanced Edition and what it brings to the table.

As I mentioned before, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition marks the first time this franchise has been on consoles, and while the PC version is one of the most beautifully standout games on the platform, the Xbox 360 is no slouch either. The game runs, for the most part, fairly smooth, with some frame drops later on in the game as onscreen action increases significantly.

Background textures aren’t exactly highres, but like the Mass Effect games, the full force of the Xbox 360 is out into rendering the characters with extreme detail, especially during dialogue sequences. Other effects like Depth of Field are also predominant throughout the game; just don’t expect the high quality lighting and particle effects as on the PC. In fact, if there’s no point of reference to the PC, you’ll really be happy knowing that The Witcher 2 Enhanced Editions is one of the most beautiful games on the X360.

Now coming back to the changes made in the Enhanced Edition, it comes with pretty much all the patches that were released since the game’s release on the PC last year. So things like better balanced enemy AI, fixing various bugs ranging from broken quests to graphical glitches, as well as the addition of the Arena Mode (think Horde Mode), Dark difficulty level and tutorial system are all par for the course.

Let’s not forget that every retail copy of the Xbox 360 version also comes with a full blown map, as well as a guide book for all of the quests within the game. It’s not a visual walkthrough with screencaps, but mostly written directions on each quest and how to approach each decision (as well as the consequences these decisions may have). Oh, and there’s a soundtrack CD as well, in addition to the two discs the game comes on.

The Enhanced Edition also adds new gameplay to The Witcher 2, in the form of new characters and quest lines, 35 minutes of cinematics, including a brilliantly animated new opening sequence that shows the assassination of one of the kings.

Of course, what I have discussed here is the Enhanced Edition, with sees improvements on the original release of the The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. For a full review on the storyline and the basic gameplay mechanics, do check out our original review of the PC version from last year.

At the end of the day, if you’ve been wanting for an epic RPG and Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 are gathering dust, the The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition is an absolutely must buy. With the plethora of new content and special packaging that puts any Collector’s Edition to shame, there’s no reason not to buy this amazing RPG.

Tbreak Developers Conference

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Events

The Tbreak Developers Conference aims to bring industry experts from the areas of mobile development, video games development and web development in touch with University students and independent developers in the region.

The event will provide insightful information to future developers on platforms they can use while Platform providers can get in touch with the developers community and students to preach their solutions.

The Tbreak Developers Conference will be held from 14th-15th March 2012 at Dubai Knowledge Village Auditorium.

To attend the event, please visit the registrations page. Furthermore, if you want to nominate an app for the Developers Award, whether it’s Web based, Mobile app or just a game, just head out to our nominations page and register your app there.

ROCCAT’s Power-Grid app controls your PC games from smartphones

March 7, 2012 by  
Filed under News, PC

Do you remember last year when Razer showed off their amazing Switchblade concept laptop during CES ’11? The same concept of touch based keys which change according to the game being played has carried over into the new Razer SWTOR keyboard and the Razer Blade gaming laptop, both of which have yet to come out. The Razer Switchblade itself is probably lost in concept PC peripherals history at this point.

What if we tell you German peripheral maker ROCCAT beat Razer to the punch and has created an iOS App that does pretty much all the Switchblade’s customizable keys did? For free no less! Say hello to the ROCCAT Power-Grid application.

The Power-Grid is an app that basically syncs up to your PC over WiFi and provides some extremely useful features. First off all of your external communication through 3rd party programs like Skype, Facebook, TeamSpeak, etc. all go onto the ‘Incoming Center’ grid of the app. Think of it like a rolling Twitter feed with inputs from multiple social media communications. You can type on the iPhone directly to communicate with your friends, while gaming on your PC remains uninterrupted.

Secondly there’s the ‘Stats Control’ grid which shows you your computer’s stats, such as CPU and RAM usage, HDD available space, Network usage, etc.

 

Third, there’s the ‘Sound Control’ grid, whereby you can set in-game audio settings as well as those programs outside of the game, like Skype, Windows Media Player, etc.

Last, but not least, is the most exciting feature of Power-Grid, that draws many similarities to Razer’s Switchblade: the ‘Custom Tab’ grid. This is where you can create custom macros and commands for different games to be used in-game in addition to your keyboard. Think of it like additional customizable macro keys for each of your games. Of course, many keyboards come with customizable macro keys, but how many of them change their icons on the keyboard itself?

Roccat will, of course, be releasing a keyboard by the end of the year, called ‘Phobo’. Basically the Project Phobo will have a built-in area where you can insert your iPhone and use Power-Grid in tandem with the keyboard. You can use the keyboard itself to communicate using Power-Grid, while it also charges your smartphone.

Of course, for those who don’t want to upgrade their existing keyboards can use the upcoming Apuri 2.0 USB hub, that will set your smartphone at an inclined angle.

While both the Phobo and Apuri 2.0 will be out towards the end of the year, people who want to try out the Power-Grid app right now on their iOS devices can apply for the beta. Android owners will have to wait a good number of months until Gamescon later in the year.

Introducing the Tbreak Developers Conference

Have you ever fancied yourself as game developer? Or how about a mobile app developer given the multi-million dollar success stories we’ve all heard for iOS and Android apps? Wouldn’t it be great to get an idea, nay, a realistic view straight from the people within the industry on how things work? Or what if you’re already on your way to stardom and want a public avenue for your brilliant ideas to be recognized and rewarded, wouldn’t you like that?

If you answered yes to all of the questions above, then the Tbreak Developers Conference is exactly what you need right now!

The Tbreak Developers Conference aims to bring industry experts from the areas of mobile development, video games development and web development in touch with University students and independent developers in the region.  The event will provide insightful information to future developers on platforms they can use while Platform providers can get in touch with the developers community and students to preach their solutions.

The Tbreak Developers Conference will be held from 14th-15th March 2012 at Dubai Knowledge Village Auditorium. Over these two days, the event is laid down like so:

You may have noticed that between all the conferences and classroom sessions, we have the Developers Choice Awards as well. Basically these awards are open for nominations for regional developers whereupon awards will be given based on nominations received by our readers. Secondly, all of the nominations will be conseidered for an additional award through a panel of judges from tbreak, Nokia, Blackberry and DIC.

So if you want your app to be considered, do nominate it for the Tbreak Developer Awards. Nominations will be open till March 10th. We have had over 500 nominations so far, so go ahead and join the competition for the best Middle Eastern app!

And for the rest of our readers who want to attend Tbreak Developers Conference, simply register now as seating for each class session is limited.

Retired WoW servers for auction

January 26, 2012 by  
Filed under News, PC

If you consider yourself to be a hardcore WoW fan, and also like showing off your techy side, then this auction will be right up your alley. After upgrading their servers recently, Blizzard has decided to sell off their old blade servers used to host World of Warcraft realms.

Following a recent upgrade of our World of Warcraft server hardware to improve your gameplay experience, we have decided to auction off the retired HP p-Class server blades and donate the proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Blizzard announced.

Each of these server blades is sold as-is, in non working conditions, although they probably do work. However, what makes the auction great, apart from 100% of proceeds being donated to a children’s hospital, is that each blade has a clear plaque with the WoW logos inscribed on it. And apart from the realm name which the server was used for hosting, the below message is also there:

Blizzard Entertainment has carefully preserved and archived our retired server blades, releasing only a limited number for a noble cause. To us, this server blade is more than just hardware: within the circuits and hard drive, a world of magic, adventure, and friendship thrived. From fishing in quiet lakes to defeating Arthas in Icecrown Citadel, this blade was home to thousands of immersive experiences across the world of Azeroth and beyond. We thank you for the safekeeping of this important part of history.”

And the development team signatures follow below.

Right now most of the 2000 servers that are being auctioned on eBay are up for around $100, with some famous servers like ‘Nagrand’ touching sub-$200. Shipping is apparently provided worldwide, so UAE residents shouldn’t have any problems getting this technically historical piece of gaming memorabilia into their homes.

Dell launches Alienware X51 desktop

January 18, 2012 by  
Filed under News, PC

While Dell’s Alienware series is known worldwide for providing bleeding edge hardware in some of the most exquisite designs on laptops and desktops, they are also known for being very expensive. Of course, with competition these prices come down, but as the years roll by, new products also enter the global arena for hot gaming hardware. Last night, and after many days of teasing, Dell finally unveiled the Alienware X51 gaming desktop.

Looks like what the next Xbox should be.

The X51 is to Alienware’s flagship desktop, the Aurora, as the M11x is to the M18x laptop. It’s designed to be small and affordable, while packing in enough hardware to provide a decent gaming experience.

Measuring just 13.5 x 12.5 x 3.7 inches, the X51 weighs a mere 5.5kgs. Obviously the small form factor means the hardware inside doesn’t exactly have a lot of room for beefy components, but what’s inside is pretty impressive nonetheless. Thing is, the X51 comes with a 240 watts PSU, so you’re not going to get a lot of options for powerful graphics cards, but even the option GTX 555, which is just a handicapped GTX 560 is pretty decent for 1080p gaming at medium to high settings on all modern games.

Dell claims that the X51 will be completely user-upgradeable if people want to tinker around with it. Starting price for the system is $699, which is the same as the M11x laptop. Given how the other Alienware products are handled here, expect the X51 to come here in the next 4 to 5 months, starting around AED 3k.
Alienware X51 Product Specifications:

  • Intel Core i3 Dual Core (standard) and Intel Core i5 and i7 Quad Core Processor Options
  • Intel H61 Express Chipset Architecture
  • Mini-ITX Motherboard
  • Powerful NVIDIA Graphics Card Options
    • 1GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GT 545 (Standard)
    • 1GB GDDR5 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 555
  • Configure with up to 8GB of DDR3 Memory (4GB Standard); 2x 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM Slots
  • Fast 7,200RPM 1TB Hard Drive
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Slot-Loading Dual Layer DVD Burner (Standard) or optional Blu-ray Disc Reader
  • Internal High-Definition 7.1 Performance Audio with Waves MAXX Audio Software
  • Integrated 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet NIC and Integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi Wireless LAN (standard)
  • USB 2.0 (6x); USB 3.0 (2x); Microphone In; Headphone/Speaker Out; HDMI 1.4 Output; RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet; Front, Rear and Center Speaker Ports; SPDIF Digital Output (TOSLINK); SPDIF Digital Output (Coax)
  • Alienware 240 Watt Power Supply (Standard) or optional 330 Watt Power Supply
  • Dual-orientation tower system dimensions: h: 13.5” (343mm) x w: 3.74” (95mm) x d: 12.52” (318mm)
  • Starting Weight: 12.1 lbs. (5.49 Kg.)

Sennheiser HD 239 Stereo Headphones Review

December 17, 2011 by  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

With Sennheiser headphones, you know that if nothing else, good quality sound is assured. The new HD 239 stereo headphones come with the quintessential Sennheiser high quality audio, with a surprising amount of detail to aesthetics, but it also has its flaws.

From the outset, the Sennheiser HD 239 looks like a pair of really high quality headphones, with an elegant combination of shiny metal and chocolate brown plastic bits. The earpads and the top headrest are made of comfortable black cushion. I would have preferred leather cushioning rather than cloth, especially for the price, but I guess comfort was the foremost priority for Sennheiser with the HD 239.

And this is where I’d like to continue with the HD 239, that these are literally the most comfortable supra-aural (on-the-ear) headphones I have used to date.  The fact that I wear glasses usually means that supra-aural headphones push so much on my ears that they eventually start aching because of all the pressure between the cushions and my glasses. Normally I can’t wear supra-aural headphones for more than 20 to 30 minutes, which is why I stick with circum-aural (over-the-ear) headphones, but the Sennheiser HD 239 are different.

It all comes down to a very simple and properly thought out design: the earpads have large cushions which are very flexible near the edges, while the center remains thicker so it is pressed alongside the ear canal properly. The second important factor is that each of the two earpieces can turn inwards at an angle of roughly 20° which makes the HD 239 even more adaptable to the size and shape of your ear. With these two design elements combined I can wear the Sennheiser HD 239 for hours at a time without feeling any discomfort.

Infinity Blade II Review

December 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

It’s not often that we see something big like AAA franchises on a mobile platform, especially one dominated by $0.99 titles. However, Infinity Blade made a name for itself when it came out last year, commanding a price $5.99 with the sheer draw of incredible graphics. Anybody who bought the game (and there were a lot who did to make sales of over $10m) realized that the game isn’t just for show. At its core Infinity Blade had a very involving gameplay, making it perfect for the iOS platform.

Now a year later, and with an iBook under its belt, Chair has finally released Infinity Blade II. While the premise of the previous game made sense, in that every time you died your heir would go fight the God King again carry over all your stats from the previous bloodline, it ultimately became boring rather soon. Of course, killing the God King became all the more sweeter and when you actually did get the Infinity Blade, it felt like the long journey had been well worth it.

With Infinity Blade II, after the warning of the God King (when you defeated him in the first game), it seems that all the deathless warriors in the world are out for the blade. You therefore start the game in search of a person called The Worker of Secrets who can safely take the Infinity Blade from you and keep it safe. As the story progresses you find out that he’s being held captive in some castle and has multiple charms, not to mention four very nasty bosses blocking your way to him. And thus begins your long but very rewarding journey of taking down multiple enemies with the ultimate goal of defeating four bosses, instead of just the one God King in the first game.

However, the games story doesn’t just unfold in a standard linear fashion and defeating the bosses isn’t your ultimate goal. First off, and I’m not really spoiling the story much because this happens very early in the game, you lose all your armor and that beautiful Infinity Blade you had in the beginning. And as you keep on fighting some of the major bosses and meet some new characters along the way, the story delves deeper into what’s actually happening with you. For similarly spoiler-free reasons, you don’t die and then let your bloodline continue to get the job done decades later; instead your character himself is reborn and resumes the job after mere months have passed by since your defeat.

In this way, the story continuity makes sense of you keeping all your gold, skills and equipment and continue on with the job. However, the biggest reason to play Infinity Blade II is the gameplay itself which is so rewarding. The interface has received a much needed facelift, everything is very streamlined now. The store and inventory items can be accessed with ease, as well as various help options.

One of the key new additions to the gameplay is the variety of weapon types. Now instead of the standard single-handed sword plus shield, you have the ability to dual-wield two weapons where attacks are fast but blocking is minimal. Or you can go with two-handed weapons such as long swords and broad axes where attacks are sluggish to pull off, but the damage is significantly high.

Apart from just the new types of weapons and the inherent gameplay style changes that come along, you can now add jewels to your equipment (where applicable) which give various stat boosts to your already versatile armor. Of course, not all types of gems can be equipped to every time, as the slot shape needs to be matched. One of my personal favorite improvements over the previous game is that gold loot in Infinity Blade II is much more abundant giving the ability to purchase higher level items and therefore not getting locked into sticking with already ‘mastered’ equipment which yields no XP.

What I really loved, though, was the seamless integration between my iPad 2 and iPhone 4 versions of Infinity Blade II. The game basically saves on the iCloud using Game Center which makes picking up and continuing where I left off on either platform a brilliant experience. I must say that Infinity Blade II was obviously optimized for the A5 processor found in the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S, but even on my iPhone 4 the game played very well. Of course, there were frame rate drops here and there, and the experience wasn’t as smooth as the iPad 2, but it definitely looked gorgeous on the Retina Display. I guess in that sense the iPhone 4S is the best platform to play Infinity Blade II on, but I’m willing to bet even that has some frame rate issues.

 

Staying on the topic, one of the biggest improvements with Infinity Blade II is lighting models which add an extra layer of depth and beauty to an otherwise static scene. Yes, there is no free-roaming this time around either, but I would much rather have cinematic camera angles with gorgeous graphics instead of an open world with low-res textures to keep thing chugging along. It’s really not an exaggeration when I say that Infinity Blade II is the best looking game on any handheld device to date, matching visuals with Xbox 360’s early days.

All of these various improvements, from the subtle shifts in music to the beautiful scenery to high-res textures create a visual environment so deep that you’ll totally feel lost in it. The story is very intriguing, and while it isn’t breaking any barriers, it’s genuinely great to see so much attention to detail in a game developed for mobile platforms. Ultimately all of these new additions combine with the brilliantly improved gameplay and much more responsive touch based gestures to create one of the best mobile games of all time.

Halo Anniversary Edition Review

November 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight, Xbox 360

The Halo series has been a shining example of FPS games on consoles done well. In 2001 the whole gaming industry was shaken to the core when Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved  on the Xbox, showing that not only can an FPS look just as good on consoles as it does on the PC, but it can play just as well.

The public loved it, and the game singlehandedly propelled the Xbox to mainstream fanfare. The immense success that Bungie and Microsoft saw with Halo: CE resulted in PC game developers following suit and creating ports for consoles that led to better sales than their PC counterparts. 10 years later and the majority of studios are now developing games for consoles first and PCs, if at all, later.

To mark the 10 year anniversary of the release of one of the most influential console games in history, we get Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary from 343 Industries. Technically, this project is a combined effort from ‘Sabre Interactive’ for the re-skinned singleplayer campaign, ‘Certain Affinity’ for the multiplayer and firefight modes and ‘Sequence Group’ for the flashback sequences found through various terminals in the singleplayer.

Apart from all the nostalgic fans, I believe this remake was also done for a whole generation of gamers who never played the original Halo because they were too young at the time.  As such, I will need to review Halo Anniversary with modern FPS gameplay characteristics in mind.

I’ll start off with the most obvious reason to purchase this game: the remade singleplayer campaign. So what we have here is the exact same singleplayer campaign, scene for scene, AI for AI, physics for physics, and gameplay mechanics for…well you get the idea. This may appeal to all old school fans (how liberally we use that term!) of the original Halo, and what will make them even happier is knowing that 343 Industries was smart enough to trim certain sections of the game to make the experience…less painful. I am, of course, referring to the infamous Library level which has been tweaked to be just about bearable.

All that sounds good, but with the same clunky physics and animation (not the graphics but the way objects are rendered) feels a decade old. Driving the warthog felt like trying to control a truck on ice. While everything looks gorgeous, the animations are still stiff, there’s no fluidity to anything. Worst of all is the fact that there’s no compass to point you in the right direction at all times; however, one does show up if you stray too far away from your objective. And many other small things make the campaign feel strange, like the plasma pistol which can be held on charge infinitely. Or that jumping feels like you’re in space. While players of the original Halo can discard these issues as ‘part of the package’, newcomers will certainly feel uneasy.

Moving along, there’s one major addition to Halo Anniversary that makes it relatively better than the first, in that the backstory is really fleshed out thanks to the flashback sequences courtesy everybody’s favorite robot, Guilty Spark, who talks about his journey from the Forerunners to the Halo rings and everything inbetween.

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